Haitians In U.S. Rush To Seek Protected Status


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This week, thousands of undocumented Haitians began applying to live and work legally in the United States. They're seeking temporary protected status, which the federal government granted in light of last week's earthquake. It's not the same as residency or citizenship, but it does spare foreign nationals from deportation due to unlivable or dangerous conditions in their home country. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services expects up to 200,000 Haitians to sign up in the next six months, many of whom live in and around Miami.


The earthquake has promoted the U.S. government to give undocumented Haitians in this country Temporary Protected Status, or TPS. Immigration officials expect up to 200,000 applications, including nearly 68,000 from south Florida.

From Miami member station WLRN, Joshua Johnson has the story.

(Soundbite of church)

JOSHUA JOHNSON: Notre Dame d'Haiti Catholic Church has long been a spiritual center for Haitians in Miami. On this day, it is also a very busy processing center with people crowded in the upstairs rooms.

Ms. MAGDA DOMINIQUE(ph): (Foreign language spoken)

JOHNSON: Magda Dominique volunteers with Miami's chapter of Catholic Charities. She's taking down the Social Security number of a man seeking Temporary Protected Status. Together they work through the two-part form, speaking in Creole, writing in English. Dominique says this could be his chance to rejoin society.

Ms. DOMINIQUE: He had legal status before and for some reason they didnt grant him relief. So as a result of that he was here illegally. And now, because of the TPS, he's now again eligible to seek employment here in the United States.

JOHNSON: TPS protects undocumented immigrants from deportation due to dangerous or unlivable conditions in their home country. Haitian advocates have sought TPS through generations of natural disasters and political unrest.

This applicant, Eylonse Charles(ph) has lived in the United States since 1993. He, like everyone else here, has one goal in mind: Find a job and send money back home.

Mr. EYLONSE CHARLES: (Foreign language spoken)

JOHNSON: I put down tiles, Charles says. I did work in general construction.

Mr. CHARLES: (Foreign language spoken)

JOHNSON: Charles lost that job, but TPS would make his search for work easier. It allows Haitians to get legitimate jobs, housing and a driver's license. It does not grant residency or citizenship and only Haitians who were in the U.S. when the earthquake hit can apply for TPS.

Immigration officials are busy holding public workshops and training service providers to help with the forms, which could lead to work permits within 90 days. But Florida and Miami Dade County in particular has seen unemployment rise dramatically as the construction sector has dried up.

Tony Villamil is the dean of the St. Thomas University School of Business in Miami Gardens. Villamil believes TPS recipients may have to search beyond construction to find work.

Mr. TONY VILLAMIL (St. Thomas University School of Business): Unfortunately, thats the worst area I would look for jobs because of the over-built that we have seen up to through 2008. We have a high degree of inventory of already-built construction in the private community.

JOHNSON: Since the federal government granted TPS last week, community groups all over south Florida have been busy helping with applications. Back at the church, volunteers help another man, Duverno Vertiloos(ph), complete the paperwork. He came with his wife and one of his children for a visit back in September. His other children and his parents survived the earthquake, but now they need his help to recover.

Mr. DUVERNO VERTILOOS: My country come to the bus station like that and I feel so sorry. So at that time, they gave us the TPS. That is a privilege for all Haitians to have opportunity to work in that country to help their families live in Haiti who destroyed so bad by that time of devastation.

JOHNSON: The protected status expires next year on July 22nd. Immigration officials say it's too soon to tell if it will be extended.

For NPR News, Im Joshua Johnson in Miami.

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