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Dominican citizenship bill gets final OK in Senate

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SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) — The Senate gave final legislative approval Wednesday night to a bill that will set up a system for granting naturalized citizenship and permanent residency to people of Haitian descent born in this Caribbean country.

All 26 lawmakers present in the Senate chamber voted for the bill during an emergency session. It must now be officially published by President Danilo Medina to become law. The measure was introduced by Medina's administration and the lower house unanimously passed it last week.

Medina submitted the bill after an international outcry erupted over a ruling last year by the country's Constitutional Court allowing the government to strip the citizenship of thousands of people born to migrants living illegally in the Dominican Republic.

Rights groups estimated about 200,000 people could lose their citizenship, nearly all of them of Haitian descent. But the government maintained that only 24,000 people would be affected, with some 13,000 of them of Haitian ancestry.

The court's ruling aggravated longstanding tensions between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, which share the island of Hispaniola. Both countries withdrew their ambassadors, but officials of both governments have since met to talk about the decision.

Anibal de Castro, the Dominican Republic's ambassador to the U.S., praised the president and the country's lawmakers for their swift action in approving the legislation.

"Through this historic legislation, President Danilo Medina fulfilled his commitment to finding a just and equitable solution for undocumented persons, while giving clarity to an outdated system," de Castro said in a statement.

The legislation seeks to uphold citizenship rights for children born to foreign parents, but only those who are registered with the government's civil registry and who have various identification documents.

Critics of Medina's bill have noted that many people do not possess those documents or have had them seized by government officials. They say the legislation will force these people to register as aliens in the land of their birth.

Under the legislation, people without the proper documents but who are able to prove they were born in the Dominican Republic will have a window of 90 days to register for regular immigration status. They can then apply for full citizenship after two years of residency.

Juliana Deguis Pierre, a woman of Haitian descent who has been fighting for her Dominican citizenship, said last week that she hopes the measure achieves what it promises.

The Dominican electoral board, which is responsible for the civil registry, will oversee a public awareness campaign to ensure that people across the country know what the new citizenship rules are.

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