SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) — An important deadline loomed Friday for tens of thousands of people in the Dominican Republic who were born in the country but are not considered citizens because they are the descendants of migrants, mostly from neighboring Haiti.
The people who fall into this category have until Feb. 1 to apply for a birth certificate as foreigners, which the government says will allow them to apply for citizenship in two years.
So far, about 6,500 people have applied for the document, which is necessary in the Dominican Republic to acquire a residency and work permit, register for school or register to vote. Many children of migrants never received their birth certificate because they weren't born in a hospital and were rebuffed by government officials when they tried to apply for them later.
"The only thing I want is that they give me a document, either Dominican or Haitian, so I can continue going to school and work," said 22-year-old Ernstcia Elva, one of many waiting in long lines at registration offices in the capital on Friday.
Elva said she has been unable to get her high school diploma, despite finishing the course work, or get a formal job because she lacks the birth certificate.
There are an estimated 60,000 people who were born in the Dominican Republic to non-citizens, according to Deputy Interior Minister Luis Fernandez. Migrant advocates say the number is actually as high as 200,000.
Many people have not applied for their birth certificate because they don't have the documents to prove they were born in the country before the April 18, 2007, the cut-off period set by a court ruling, or can't afford the fees to register. Some may also be reluctant to declare themselves "foreigners," in the country they were born, fearing the potential repercussions despite government's pledges that they can later apply for citizenship. Some may also believe that they are citizens by birth.
"It will formalize the process of rendering them stateless," said Roque Feliz, director of the Centro Bono, a non-governmental organization that assists migrants.
For many years, the Dominican Republic encouraged people from Haiti to come and work in the sugar cane fields and other marginal jobs, and the population of migrants and their descendants has swelled as a result.
In 2013, the Supreme Court, rendering a final decision in a long-simmering dispute, ruled that people born in the country to non-citizens were not automatically entitled to citizenship. It was a retroactive ruling that went back to 1929, and left many people who had thought of themselves as Dominican in legal limbo.
Amid international pressure, the government decided that people affected by the ruling could apply for citizenship after they obtain birth certificates by Feb. 1. Officials said Friday the deadline would not change despite pleas by advocates for an extension.