SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – The Dominican leader on Thursday submitted a bill to Congress that he says would create a path to naturalized citizenship for thousands of people of Haitian descent who were born in the Dominican Republic.
The proposed legislation from President Danilo Medina's office was initially expected to be submitted to lawmakers in February but was delayed. It will first be taken up by the lower house, which is expected to create a committee to analyze the bill. It's not clear when a vote would take place.
In a Thursday statement, Medina's administration said the measure is designed to find a "humanitarian, measured and responsible" solution for those people impacted by a controversial court decision last year that narrowed the definition of Dominican citizenship.
The Dominican Constitutional Court ruled that being born in the country does not automatically grant citizenship, and it directed officials to purge voter rolls of non-citizens, including people born to non-legal residents going back to 1929. These are almost entirely people of Haitian descent.
Advocates said the ruling threatened to strip Dominican citizenship from more than 200,000 people, along with the documents they need to work or attend school. The government said their count came to roughly 24,000.
The ruling is a reflection of deep hostility in the Dominican Republic to the large number of Haitians who have come to live in their country and their descendants. The two countries share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola.
Medina's bill would confirm citizenship rights for children born to foreign parents, but only those who are registered with the government and have various identification documents.
Cesar Pina Toribio, a legal adviser to Medina, said the path to naturalization is for those people who can "prove they were born in the Dominican Republic."
Those who were born in the Dominican Republic but have no documents to prove it could be recognized as foreigners with residency, according to Medina's new proposal.
Critics like lawyer Maria Martinez said the vast majority of the people impacted by last year's court ruling are descendants of migrants brought in to work on sugar plantations and who never registered with the government and have no ID. She said Medina's bill would force these people to register as aliens in the land of their birth.