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SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — For generations, people of Haitian descent have been an inextricable part of life here, often looked at with suspicion and dismay, but largely relied on all the same to clean rooms, build things cheaply and provide the backbreaking labor needed on the country’s vast sugar plantations.

Now, intensifying a long and furious debate over their place in this society, the nation’s top court has declared that the children of undocumented Haitian migrants — even those born on Dominican soil decades ago — are no longer entitled to citizenship, throwing into doubt the status of tens of thousands of people here who have never known any other national identity.

“I am Dominican,” said Ana María Belique, 27, who was born in the Dominican Republic and has never lived anywhere else, but has been unable to register for college or renew her passport because her birth certificate was no longer accepted. “I don’t know Haiti. I don’t have family or friends there. This is my home.”

In a broad order that has reverberated across the hemisphere, the court has instructed the authorities here to audit all of the nation’s birth records back to June 1929 to determine who no longer qualifies for citizenship, setting off international alarm.

The United Nations high commissioner for refugees warned that the decision “may deprive tens of thousands of people of nationality,” while the regional alliance of Caribbean nations, which the Dominican Republic has sought to join, condemned how masses of people are “being plunged into a constitutional, legal and administrative vacuum.”

“It is remarkably sweeping in terms of numbers: over 200,000 made stateless — a staggering figure,” said Laura Bingham, who tracks citizenship issues for the Open Society Justice Initiative. She and other legal experts called it one of the more sweeping rulings denying nationality in recent years.

To some extent, the ruling, issued Sept. 23, and the intensity of emotions around it carry echoes of the immigration debate in the United States and other countries, with wide disagreement on how to treat migrant workers and their children.

But given the history of the Dominican Republic and Haiti — a sometimes cooperative, often tense and occasionally violent relationship between two nations sharing one island — the decision has brought to the surface a unique set of racial tensions and resentment toward the waves of impoverished Haitian migrants that fill menial jobs on this side of the border.

An estimated 200,000 people born in this country have Haitian parents, according to the last census, by far the largest immigrant group here and thus the one most widely affected by the ruling. Haitian immigrants occupy the lowest rungs of society here, and have for generations, living in urban slums or squalid sugar plantation camps where wage abuse remains common, as a United States Department of Labor report found last month.

For decades, Haitians, housed in remote shantytowns known as bateys, were brought over on contracts for sugar plantations to cut cane under the blistering sun. Many still labor in the fields, while others work as maids, construction workers and in other low-paying jobs.

Many Haitians proudly embrace the slave rebellion that led to Haiti’s founding as a nation. But Dominicans, although they rushed aid to Haiti after its devastating 2010 quake and maintain many cultural and social exchanges, historically have viewed their neighbors with qualms, identifying more with their nation’s Spanish colonial past and, despite their own racially mixed heritage, often deriding anyone with dark skin as “Haitian.”

“The Dominican Republic is at a crossroads right now over the question, ‘What does it mean to be Dominican in the 21st century?’ ” said Edward Paulino, a historian at John Jay College who has studied the relationship between the two countries. “It is a country of immigrants, but no other group is like the Haitians, which arrived with the cultural baggage of a history of black pride in a country that chose to identify with the European elite.”