US offers protected status for Haitian immigrants
By SAMANTHA HENRY
Associated Press Writer
Haitians living in the United States started applying Thursday for a government program offering qualified immigrants the chance to legally remain in the country and get work permits.
Under the temporary protected status program, or TPS, eligible participants have an 18-month reprieve during which they can work to send money back to Haiti and help family members struggling in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake.
Immigrant rights groups, community centers and churches in Haitian communities from Miami to Newark, N.J., were inundated with inquiries about TPS on Thursday, the first day of the program.
Staff at Haitian Women of Miami were trying to cope with the overwhelming number of people seeking help with their TPS applications by making appointments. The small offices in the city's Little Haiti neighborhood opened over the weekend to schedule those appointments, which are booked through March, said Evelt Jeudy, the nonprofit's immigration policy adviser.
"I can't say we're getting calls on a daily basis. It's every second that we're getting calls about TPS," Jeudy said. He planned to see about 50 TPS applicants Thursday.
The small waiting room was filled with a mix of TPS applicants and frantic people seeking help getting medical aid to family members in Port-au-Prince.
"Haitians have paid a heavy price for TPS," said Soeurette Camille, 54. "We have paid with our families' lives. I have lost my house (in Port-au-Prince)." She has lived in Miami without legal documentation for the past two years after her appeal for political asylum was denied and other work permits expired.
Camille is eager to get back to work so she can send money to relatives in Haiti. She would prefer permanent residency, but TPS is better than nothing. "Even if they just offered me a month, I would take it," she said. "I consider TPS to be a lifeline for the Haitian people."
U.S. immigration officials anticipate 100,000 to 200,000 Haitians may apply for the program. Application fees can run as much as $470. Applicants must have been in the U.S. on or before Jan. 12, the day of the earthquake, to be eligible. Anyone convicted of a felony or two or more misdemeanors in the U.S. is ineligible to apply.
At Catholic Charities in Newark, immigration specialists were extending their office hours late into Thursday to try to accommodate those seeking help with TPS. They were also coordinating with other immigration groups throughout the New York metropolitan area to widen TPS outreach and solicit volunteer lawyers to help with applications.
Twenty-seven-year-old Max Pointdujour, a Haitian immigrant living in Montclair, N.J., was one of the first in line Thursday at Catholic Charities to get help applying for TPS. Despite a pending application for asylum, Pointdujour said he hoped TPS would allow him to get a job faster, so he can start sending money to his family.
"They need food, they need dress because the situation in Haiti right now is very bad," he said, adding that family members were complaining that the only goods available in Haiti were going for 10 times the normal price.
"They are waiting for my help," he said. "I want to work just now, after
I finish getting the TPS, and help them down there in Haiti."