The Miami Herald
Sun, Jan. 24, 2010

Kendall workshop aims to clarify TPS process for Haitians


Could Haitians who arrived in the United States the very day of Haiti's earthquake still apply for Temporary Protected Status?

Yes -- so long as they have a ticket stub, passport stamp or any other documentation that could prove they were in the country as of Jan. 12, the date of the temblor.

The question was one of several answered Saturday during a community workshop hosted by the U.S. Department of Citizenship and Immigration Services at its Kendall regional office. Three days after the quake, the federal government allowed undocumented Haitians in the United States to apply for TPS, a dramatic policy change that was hailed by the Haitian-American community but still generated confusion.

"We're here to demystify the process and make it as transparent as possible,'' said Robert A. Fenwick, field office director for the Kendall office. "This program is here to offer some stability in an unstable time.''

As thousands of undocumented Haitian immigrants begin to apply for TPS, immigration officials have started hosting information sessions and reaching out to Haitian American community groups to clarify the process and cut down on any potential scams.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will be hosting an additional workshop Tuesday in North Miami and Saturday in Fort Lauderdale, where Creole-speaking immigration officers will be on hand to explain what's required for the six-page application.

Anywhere from 100,000 to 200,000 Haitians who were in the United States up till Jan. 12 will be eligible for TPS, according to figures provided by the Department of Homeland Security. Until the earthquake struck, these undocumented immigrants had struggled for years to obtain such status.

Jacques Sanville, who attended Saturday's workshop, hopes to gain TPS.

Sanville, who works as a landscaper, wants to be able to live here legally and send money back to relatives in Haiti -- though he hasn't been able to communicate with them since the earthquake flattened much of his native Port-au-Prince.

"If we can stay here and work, that is all we ask,'' Sanville, 47, said. "We already work to send to Haiti, but now Haiti needs more and more from us.''

Under TPS, Haitians can stay in the country legally for 18 months and obtain a work permit so that they can be legally employed and send money back to the beleaguered nation.

"This is an immigration benefit that we urge the community to embrace,'' said Ana Santiago, spokeswoman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Santiago said immigration officials recommend that Haitians link up with community groups and churches like Catholic Legal Services to receive assistance completing the form. They also warn Haitians to be wary of people offering to expedite the application process for a large sum of money.

"There are a lot of community groups who are willing to assist and have experience with the paperwork process,'' Santiago said.

Roland Cherasard, vice president of the Miami-based Haitian Lawyers Association, was among several who attended Saturday's information session to learn more about the TPS process so he could spread the information to others in the Haitian American community.

"There's a lot of confusion out there,'' Cherasard said. "The more the public can inform themselves the better.''