We just celebrated the Fourth of July, a day commemorating our independence from an oppressive mother country and the beginning of a new nation which would, over time, become the greatest nation on earth. Technicalities and infantile bureaucratic processes aside, when our forefathers declared independence from the British, they officially became Americans. Nationality brings a sense of belonging, it gives us a culture, a language, and support to do what we need and even want to do. It is a blessing. For some 200,000 people of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic, however, that blessing has not yet been granted, in fact, it’s been taken away.
In 2013, lawmakers in the Dominican ruled that children born on Dominican soil to undocumented Haitian parents since 1929, when the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti was established, were not entitled to citizenship. The retroactive application of this legislature, a sort of law we are protected from in the United States, has left many nationless.
“I am Dominican,” said Ana María Belique to the New York Times “I don’t know Haiti. I don’t have family or friends there. This is my home.”
Ana is one of many whose birth certificates are no longer recognized in the Dominican Republic because of the new law.
On baseball’s Opening Day in 2016, 82 Dominican players made the starting rosters for their MLB club. For some perspective, there are only 750 spots available in baseball’s highest level at any time, meaning about eleven percent of professional baseball players come from a nation of less than 11 million people. That the Dominican Republic has quite the knack for producing big league stars is no secret at this point, but perhaps its biggest talents are hidden under this bureaucratic nightmare.
“I have a lot of friends who are scared that the government is going to send them back to Haiti,” shortstop Orlando Calixte told ESPN’s Bruce Schoenfeld. Calixte is one of very few Dominicans of Haitian descent in the Majors to open up about his heritage.
Without a birth certificate, players cannot sign contracts with major league teams. For Haitians living in the Dominican Republic, obtaining a birth certificate often means taking a false name and claiming a false parentage:
“If you were Haitian, you could go back and get papers from somebody,” says Franklin Johnson Mateo, a friend and advisor of Minnesota Twins slugger Miguel Sanó. “‘This is my mom and dad, I’m Dominican.’ But really it’s a fake mom and dad.”
Sanó himself was born to legal Haitian parents and his birth certificate says ‘Miguel Jean’, but he took the name Sanó after his biological father left and a man named Sanó lived with the family.
This issue of fraud has been addressed by Major League Baseball, who maintains a presence in the Dominican as more and more players sign contracts with clubs as early as age 16. Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson instituted an in-depth system to investigate the names and birthdates of players as they registered with Major League Baseball, a process which, again, requires a birth certificate. Those who are found to be of Haitian descent and, subsequently, not in possession of a birth certificate, are essentially hung out to dry.
“I wouldn’t say that intended consequences were to leave a specific group of people outside the benefits of that process,” Alderson told ESPN. “But in essence that’s what has happened.”
Haiti does and will allow children born to Haitians outside of Haitian borders to receive birth certificates and other documents, but the system is often long-winded and disorganized.
There is no telling how many superstars are suppressed under this unfairly retroactive law, but that should be the least of our worries. Again, nationality brings a sense of belonging and freedom. While these people are still Dominicans culturally, linguistically, and in every other way, until they can be recognized as documented Dominicans.
So, as you always should, be grateful for where you live and what you have. Be grateful for a nation which, while imperfect, still functions infinitely better than many other out there. Be grateful to belong.