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(TRENTON) – Senator Raymond Lesniak, Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter and Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer on Thursday urged the Dominican Republic to reinstate the citizenship of more than 200,000 people born in the country but had their citizenship retroactively stripped by a government tribunal.

“This is a civil rights issue and a human rights issue that violates the legal and moral standards of citizenship,” said Senator Lesniak (D-Union). “Despite the fact that they were born in the Dominican Republic and lived there their entire lives, they were made stateless, which left them vulnerable to abuse, violence and deportation. They lost their rights and some lost their home country.”

Senator Lesniak is the sponsor of a Senate Resolution, SR-134, that calls for the citizenship reinstatement. Assemblywoman Sumter and Assemblywoman Spencer are sponsors of a similar resolution in the Assembly, AR-256.

“The Dominican government created a humanitarian crisis in the way they have dealt with immigration and citizenship concerns. Haitians who come to the Dominican Republic for a better quality of life should be afforded the same opportunity as Dominican citizens,” said Assemblywoman Sumter (D-Bergen, Passaic). “It is inhumane for tens of thousands Dominican-born Haitians to be rendered stateless and live under threat of deportation as a result of the Dominican government tribunal ruling. Citizenship should be reinstated immediately.”

In September 2013, the Constitutional Tribunal of the Dominican Republic issued a ruling that retroactively stripped Dominican citizenship from an estimated 240,000 people born since 1929 in the Dominican Republic to undocumented parents, primarily Haitians.

“For the only place that you have ever called home to become volatile toward you and force you to immigrate is unfathomable, unjust, and has many in the Dominican Republic living under threat of fear and violence,” said Assemblywoman Spencer (D-Essex). “Dominican-born Haitians should not be facing deportation at the hands of discriminatory policies in violation of their basic civil liberties. This is a human rights issue which has many countries curious to see how it will be addressed.”

This ruling contributed to a climate of hostility toward Haitians and affected Dominicans, resulting in acts of violence, including lynching and mob attacks. The statelessness of these victims led to the deportation of thousands of people who were deprived of the rights of citizenship. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights held that the tribunal’s ruling was discriminatory and violates the government’s binding obligations under the American Convention on Human Rights.

Many academic, legal, and human rights groups have called for actions challenging the government of the Dominican Republic on the situation, including the National Bar Association, The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, The Haitian American Committee, New Jersey For Haiti, The Haitian Lawyers Association of New Jersey, The Haitian American Professionals Coalition, Haitian American Lawyers Association of New York, The Haitian Congress to Fortify Haiti, and The Coalition of Dominicans Against Racism.