- Statelessness in the Caribbean: The Paradox of Belonging in a Postnational World by Kristy A. Belton
Kristy Belton opens her interesting volume with a critique of the notion that at least in developed democracies, citizenship is losing its salience in favor of the human rights that everyone enjoys, merely by being human.1 Democracies tend to grant most human rights to everyone resident in their territories, even including [End Page 707] undocumented ("illegal") migrants. Belton disputes this contention. She argues that even if migrants are afforded human rights in some democracies, this privilege does not extend to the stateless.
Belton argues that statelessness in the twenty-first century is very different from the statelessness about which Hannah Arendt wrote after World War II.2 Arendt wrote about stateless migrants wandering the world to try to find a place that would take them in after their own countries expelled them or forced them to flee. By contrast, Belton argues that in the twenty-first century, many people are rendered stateless in situ, in the place where they are born.
Belton's evidence for this contention is drawn from her case studies of the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic. Both are democracies, and both have significant minority populations of people of Haitian descent, although the Bahamas is much wealthier than its counterpart. Drawing on her own interviews with local officials, NGO actors, stateless individuals, and others, as well as upon interviews conducted by other individuals and organizations, Belton paints a picture of people living in limbo or liminality, part of the society but not formally members of the polity, in effect "noncitizen insiders."3 Technically eligible for Haitian citizenship, they are stateless de facto, as they are often not aware of their eligibility and in any case, do not wish to be considered Haitian.
These individuals are not wandering stateless migrants: they are persons of Haitian descent who were born in the Bahamas or the Dominican Republic, but are not entitled to citizenship in those two countries, at least not at birth. In the Bahamas, they have a narrow one-year window to apply for citizenship at the age of eighteen. During this period they are often rendered de jure stateless for a few months, as they are obliged to renounce their nominal Haitian citizenship before being registered as Bahamian citizens. In the Dominican Republic, things are much worse. Not only may people of Haitian descent not obtain citizenship at birth, but a law passed in 2010 retroactively deprived hundreds of thousands of citizenship. Only those who can prove their descent from individuals born in the Dominican Republic before 1929; that is, four generations ago, are now entitled to citizenship.
Bureaucratic inertia and deliberate obfuscation of the seemingly non-discriminatory rules surrounding citizenship compound the disadvantages imposed on people of Haitian descent by these laws. Often individuals born in the Dominican Republic do not know, for example, that they are actually considered to be citizens of Haiti. Nor do they know how to go about obtaining confirmation of that citizenship. When persons of Haitian descent turn eighteen in the Bahamas, they may not know of the one-year window available to apply to be registered as citizens. They may also be denied the documents, such as birth registration, needed to make their applications. They are also victims of gender-biased policies that grant citizenship to children of citizen fathers, but not mothers.
These quasi-stateless individuals of Haitian descent are often victims of racism. Racist teachers may deny their children registration in schools; racist medical professionals may deny them treatment. In the Dominican Republic, people identify themselves as white or "Indio" and look down on black Haitians. [End Page 708] In both countries they are considered impure, equated with dirt and criminality. Belton quotes heartbreaking stories from her informants of deplorable living conditions, racist school bullying, and opportunities denied.
Technically speaking, many of the "stateless" individuals of Haitian descent in these two countries are not stateless; if they knew how to...