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I interviewed Rosanna, a bright 17-year-old born in the Dominican Republic, a couple of weeks ago during my investigation into Dominican nationality law for Human Rights Watch. Rosanna’s parents migrated from Haiti over 20 years ago; for two years, she has been involuntarily enmeshed in an increasingly contested national struggle over who is, and who is not, a Dominican national.

Haitians face police while waiting outside the Ministry of Interior and Police to register in Santo Domingo, June 16, 2015.   © 2015 Reuters

Beginning today, Rosanna also faces the risk of expulsion to Haiti under a government deadline – though it’s not clear how many people are affected.

In 2013, the Dominican Constitutional Tribunal retroactively removed citizenship from tens of thousands of Dominicans. Most of them, like Rosanna, are of Haitian descent – a historically marginalized community. This has left them unable to carry out basic civil tasks such as register children at birth, enroll in school and university, participate in the formal economy, or move around the country without risk of detention and expulsion. Forced to quit public school, Rosanna now picks and sells fruit in the countryside making less than US$3 a day.

In 2014, President Danilo Medina’s administration attempted to mitigate the high court ruling with a Naturalization Law aimed at recognizing the citizenship claims of those affected by the 2013 decision. Despite a promising legal framework, the law has been fraught with design and implementation flaws that have thwarted the naturalization process. Tens of thousands of Dominicans like Rosanna were unable to benefit from the law, and are now vulnerable to expulsion.

To further complicate matters, since 2014, the government has also implemented a “regularization” plan for Haitian migrants. In contrast to Dominicans of Haitian descent like Rosanna, migrants like her parents were born in Haiti and moved to the Dominican Republic – often to work for the Dominican government or for Dominican companies. Many migrants, however, did so without proper documentation. Over the past year, the government offered these individuals an opportunity to “regularize” their migratory status in the country. Like the Naturalization Law, the regularization process, while well intentioned, was rife with design and implementation failures and many who should be eligible weren’t able to apply.

Despite the limitations of both laws, the Dominican government has been unclear on who will be affected by today’s deadline for deportations. According to local sources, only Haitian migrants who were unable to regularize are at risk. Many, however, fear that Dominicans of Haitian descent will also be rounded up in a process that seems to focus more on how people look than on where they were born. The Dominican press reports that the president will likely speak on the issue this evening.

On the basis of research in my forthcoming report, Human Rights Watch is calling on the Dominican government to halt expulsions of denationalized Dominicans. We’re urging the government to work with activists, nongovernmental organizations, the Haitian government, and other international stakeholders to guarantee individuals are not arbitrarily, and permanently, deprived of their Dominican nationality. We’re also urging that any lawful deportations take place in a manner consistent with international legal standards.

Unless Dominicans authorities act now, children like Rosanna won’t be going back to school this fall. Instead, they could forcibly – and in complete violation of their human rights – be kicked out of the country in which they were born and raised on a one-way bus to Haiti.

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