Bringing the Border to Baby: Birth Registration as Bordering Practice for Migrant Women’s Children

This article discusses the ways babies born to migrant and refugee women are being excluded from birth registration and calls for rights defenders to recognize and resist these practices. It focuses on the Dominican Republic’s denial of birth certificates for people of Haitian descent, and an action-research project aiming to facilitate access to the Dominican civil registry for children of mixed-status couples (Haitian migrant mother and Dominican father).

Research Findings

This article outlines how birth registration requirements are made more restrictive in migration receiving countries as a means of discouraging migration and excluding their descendants from citizenship or accessing rights. The article provides an overview of some exclusionary birth registration practices in the United States (Texas) and Israel which may prevent migrants (particularly women) and their families from obtaining birth certificates for their children. The bulk of the article focuses on birth registration practices in the Dominican Republic which create a risk of statelessness for descendants of Haitian migrants. The discussion illustrates how border enforcement can happen inside a country’s borders, such as the institutions involved in birth registration (e.g. hospitals and civil registry offices).

The article raises concerns about the ways in which migrant women are controlled through their reproductive lives, as migration enforcement is happening in the birth registration process. Specifically, within the Dominican Republic, children born to Haitian migrant women or Dominican women of Haitian descent are at risk of remaining undocumented and stateless because their births have not been properly registered or they have not been claimed by a second parent with documented Dominican citizenship. These obstacles to birth registration are thinly veiled attempts to deny citizenship to Haitian migrants and their descendants in the Dominican Republic, while continuing to exploit them as expendable labour force participants. The article also calls for rights advocates to push back against these kinds of practices using existing human rights frameworks. It offers the example of an action research project led by the Caribbean Migrants Observatory (OBMICA) and a local NGO which used research findings to engage in legal accompaniment and policy advocacy to promote birth registration for previously unregistered children of mixed Dominican-Haitian couples.  

Key Recommendations
  1. Practitioners working to strengthen birth registration as part of efforts to implement SDG 16.9 on legal identity for all should be aware of the specific obstacles that migrant and refugee women face when attempting to obtain birth certificates for their children. These efforts must work to ensure non-discrimination in the strengthening of civil registration and vital statistics systems, and the fulfilment of the human right to a nationality for all.
  2. Practitioners can advocate for and implement firewalls or prohibitions against information sharing between health personnel or other service providers and migration enforcement. Healthcare workers should be free to fulfil their role of providing care, and should not have migration enforcement or nationality determination responsibilities.
  3. Dominican Republic: Passing the proposed legislation on Paternal Responsibility would enable single mothers to opt for required paternal recognition on children’s birth certificates and thus make it easier to access the civil registry for children of mixed couples.
  4. Dominican Republic: The Ministry of Public Health and other bureaucratic and healthcare departments would benefit from the elimination of the use of separate birth notification forms (which are used to distinguish babies born as citizens and noncitizens) and create one universal form used for all new births.
Implementation Examples

Stakeholders (including groups like UNICEF and UNHCR) working on the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 16.9 (to provide legal identity and documentation for all, including birth registration) may benefit from awareness of the practices outlined in this research paper.

Methodology

The research in this paper primarily consists of secondary document review and content analysis of an action project that worked to obtain birth registration or other forms of documentation for migrants and their families in the Dominican Republic.

Core Concepts

  1. Birth registration – Birth registration is the process of recording a child’s birth. It is a permanent and official record of a child’s existence, and provides legal recognition of that child’s identity. Birth registration is required for a child to get a birth certificate — their first legal proof of identity. (UNICEF)
  2. Bordering practice – This refers to activities engaged in by states that constitute, sustain or modify borders between states, as well as determinations of national belonging therein. See Nick Vaughan-Williams, Border Politics: The Limits of Sovereign Power (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press 2009) ch. 1

Limitations

Early-stage research, complete findings forthcoming in PhD dissertation.

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