For much of the 20th century, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Haitians have lived in the Dominican Republic where they have played an integral part in the country’s development. Yet, their lives in have been haunted for almost a century by deep-rooted racism and discriminatory policies originating from the highest levels of the Dominican government.

For decades, Haitians were brought to the country to work as cane cutters on sugarcane plantations. They lived in remote, slum-like bateyes and were issued a company ID, called a ficha, which Dominican authorities accepted as a form of identification and for registering births. Over time, workers permanently settled in the Dominican Republic, started families and lost all ties to Haiti. As the sugar industry declined, many lost their jobs and have since been denied pensions. For their children born on Dominican soil, they have grown up supporting tourism or working construction, believing they are Dominican, only to have discrimination and politics strip them of their identity, rights and dreams.

Until 2010, nearly all children born on Dominican soil automatically received Dominican citizenship. They received birth certificates, cedulas and passports and had access to schools, jobs and other social services. This would start to change in 2004, when Dominican migration laws were amended in a tactic that intentionally redefined elements of Dominican nationality law, which targeted the Haitian community. The new migration law caused outrage and in 2005, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found the actions of the Dominican government discriminatory and directed the government to change its policies.  Claiming issues of citizenship and nationality were the sovereign right of the state, the Dominican government rejected the legitimacy of the court’s decision. Two years later in 2007, the government ordered registration officials throughout the country to withhold copies of birth certificates and identity documents to children of ‘foreign parents’—Haitians. Since then, thousands have been denied legal identities and the documents required to move forward with their educations and lives. A change to nationality laws in the Dominican constitution in 2010 was then followed by a landmark decision by the Dominican Constitutional Court in 2013, which retroactively stripped Dominican citizenship away from any person born to migrant parents in the country since 1929. The decision denationalized hundreds of thousands, and was yet another legal move by the government to systematically discriminate against Dominicans of Haitian descent and deprive them from rights, citizenship and their rightful place in Dominican society.