Statelessness: The Unending Plight of Haitians

Most Haitians, whether in Haiti or abroad, experience a form of statelessness. This refers to the condition of not being considered a national by any State under its laws. Jus soli Haitians living in Haiti are citizens by birth. Their statelessness, however, speaks to the nature of their existence in the world as they are not afforded the rights and protections that come with being a citizen inside or outside of Haiti.

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Children march with the Haitian and American flags. Joe Raedle/Getty

Citizenship is a legal concept denoting ‘in-ness’ and ‘out-ness.’ It serves as a framework for the social contract that exists between a government and its constituents. This contract suggests a mutual obligation between the state and its citizens: the state provides the security of law, and in exchange citizens provide support to the state, materially in the form of taxes, or less directly, allegiance to, or participation in, the process of governing. The state of Haiti exists, but lacks capacity to deliver basic services to its citizens. And because the state is unable to fulfill the basic functions, third parties step in to do the job (NGOs, philanthropists, etc.). This has created a cycle, whereby the state’s weakness becomes the entree for non-governmental organizations, whose very presence acts to further weaken the state’s capacity. Which is to say, Haitians, even within Haiti, are living a stateless existence.

Haitians are leaving this situation of de facto statelessness in Haiti. But when they do, they become “othered” elsewhere – i.e., in but not of the community – physically present but not deserving of legal status. Which is to say, when people do leave Haiti, they are met with inexplicable contempt that reeks of anti-blackness and classism.

Traditionally, Haitians have migrated in large number to the Dominican Republic, the United States, neighboring Caribbean islands, and Canada. A number of Haitians have recently sought refuge in Chile, where nearly 150,000 Haitians (a little over 1% of the country’s population) have migrated in the last two years alone. Chile has become a promising destination  (or really just an alternative) for thousands of Haitians seeking work in Chile’s growing economy. Concerned, the Chilean government has returned hundreds of Haitians to Haiti on what it refers to as “humanitarian flights” in recent months. This forced deportation has been described by the Chilean government as “voluntary” even though it requires that Haitians leaving Chile sign a declaration saying they won’t return for nine years and must take any immediate family back with them.

Haitians do not pose a threat to Chile.

Yet they have been shipped back to where they came from by the boatloads for the sole purpose of cutting migrant numbers. It appears that no matter how willing Haitians are to work or even to renounce their citizenship, they remain unwelcomed.

Since the Trump administration’s announcement to end temporary protected status for Haitians back in 2017, much fear and anxiety have ensued. Haiti has yet to recover from several natural disasters, incidents of international theft, and indemnity. TPS recipients living in the United States do not necessarily have homes in Haiti, let alone family. And even if they do, 25% of Haiti’s GDP stems from the Haitian diaspora sending money back home. This decision would take an even worse toll on the Haitian people who rely on their family members living in the U.S. for support.

In March of this year, House Democrats proposed the Dream and Promise Act, which would allow for over 2.5 million people living in the U.S. (through DACA, TPS, etc.) to apply for legal status which could place them on the path to permanent citizenship. While this news is exciting for Haitian TPS recipients who feared deportation, it doesn’t guarantee that they will remain in the United States. For one thing, the bill is not likely to pass in the current environment.

What says the Haitian Constitution of the government’s duty to the Haitian people? What makes someone a citizen of Haiti other than having been born on Haitian soil and a legal document to prove (if even they are able to gain access to this)? Have we lost faith in the democratic process? Or have we lost faith in the Haitian government; did we ever have faith in the Haitian government – let alone imagine that they were capable of governing? It is still the job of the Haitian government to maintain a system of checks and balances, so that development NGOs don’t have the option of trading aid for sex with teenage girls? It is still the job of the Haitian government to maintain a sanitation system so that the Haitian people don’t have to burn their trash in the streets, releasing pathogens into the air and further spreading disease-causing bacteria?

It is fair to argue that when a government ceases to invest in its citizens and ceases to maintain security for its citizens, especially from harm done by foreigners, those citizens are not citizens. They become people moving from one place to another in search of the protections that governments are supposed to provide.

Obviously, the role of the U.S. government and outside aid organizations crippling Haiti’s economy and state building capacity has to be explored. While the exploitative practices that have plagued Haiti for generations persist, it is no longer enough to say that they are the primary reason why the Haitian government has not been able to carry out the most basic functions of the state.

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Isabella Louis is a recent graduate of Goucher College. She majored in Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies with a focus on Africana Studies. Louis identifies as a Haitian-American, first-generation, black feminist. In her free time, Louis enjoys reading and writing on the Haitian state, singing, dancing, and spending time with family and friends.

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