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Ripples of fear after Dominican citizenship ruling

LOS JOVILLOS, Dominican Republic — In a house with no running water surrounded by vast stretches of sugar cane, Abelinda Yisten Debel studies for a high school graduation exam she might not be allowed to take.

It’s not just her diploma that’s uncertain. The 19-year-old Yisten also faces the prospect of not being able to marry, get a formal job, or go to a public hospital if she gets sick.

She is one of an estimated 200,000 people who were born in the Dominican Republic and now may lose their citizenship, and the rights that go along with it, because of a recent Constitutional Court decision.

The court ruled that people who were born in the Dominican Republic to parents who were neither citizens nor legal residents are not automatically entitled to citizenship under a new constitution adopted in 2010. The effects of the decision are retroactive, and come as a particular shock to people like Yisten, who has rarely ventured beyond the dirt streets of her village and never traveled farther than the capital.

“It’s sad because I’m not a foreigner. I’m from here,” she said at her home — two rooms in a concrete barracks-like structure, built by the government for sugar workers, where 10 families share a bathroom.

Many in her central Dominican village, Los Jovillos, and across the country are waiting to learn their fate, some afraid to leave the house for fear they may be deported by immigration authorities — most likely to Haiti since most are of Haitian descent — because they have no papers. Some have lived in the Dominican Republic for generations.

“If they grab me, I’ll be in trouble because I don’t know where I would go. I’ve never even been to Haiti,” said Juliana Deguis Pierre, the woman whose legal challenge resulted in the Constitutional Court ruling Sept. 23.

The court ordered the government and the Electoral Council to compile a list within two years of people who should be stripped of their Dominican birth certificate and identification card, known as a cedula, a document issued at age 18 that is required to participate in any public activity, from holding a job to casting a ballot.

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Category: DR News |

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Last updated March 29, 2017 at 11:04 PM
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