Haitians In U.S. File for Temporary Protective Status

fromWNYC

Haitians who're in the country illegally were given six months to apply for the right to work in the United States. With jobs, the idea was, they might be able to help their families recover from the earthquake. Last week was the half-way point to apply. Ruth Pierre of New York was among those eager to get Temporary Protected Status.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

After Haiti's earthquake last January, Haitians living illegally in the United States were given six months to apply for the right to work here. The idea was that with jobs they might be able to help their families in Haiti recover from the earthquake.

There are about three months left to apply. Let's hear now from a New Yorker named Ruth Pierre who was among those eager to get temporary protected status, or TPS. We first met her when she was filling out her application.

Ms. RUTH PIERRE: It's very important for me to get this, to be able to work and contribute in the community.

MONTAGNE: Ruth Pierre's application was recently approved. As she began her search for work, Marianne McCune of member station WNYC tagged along.

MARIANNE MCCUNE: Almost every day of the week now, Ruth Pierre walks about 40 minutes from her home to a city-funded job center in Queens.

Ms. PIERRE: Yeah, it's a good walk.

MCCUNE: She would take the bus but she doesnt have bus fare.

Unidentified Man #1: Excuse me, all of y'all here for orientation?

Unidentified Man #2: Yeah.

MCCUNE: Pierre wants to become a nursing assistant but can't afford to take the classes. And she's here today to find out about city grants to get certified.

(Soundbite of ringing cell phone)

MCCUNE: The phone in her jam-packed bag belongs to the storefront church she lives above.

Ms. PIERRE: (Foreign language spoken)

MCCUNE: In exchange for her and her son's room, she helps the pastor, including answering his phone.

Ms. PIERRE: (Foreign language spoken)

MCCUNE: Across the country, more than 47,000 Haitians have applied for TPS. Immigration officials now estimate some 70 to 100 thousand are eligible, but originally that guess was higher - one to 200,000. And some advocates are disappointed more are not applying.

At a center in Brooklyn set up to help families after the earthquake, New York State immigrant liaison Jocelyne Mayas says many are telling her: nope.

Ms. JOCELYNE MAYAS (N.Y. Immigrant Community Liaison): They do not have the money, thats number one.

MCCUNE: The application fee is $470 for adults, and it's not easy to get a fee waiver.

Number two among reasons Haitians are not applying: People are afraid theyll be deported. TPS does expire after 18 months, though it's likely to be renewed repeatedly. Still, Mayas says rumors fly.

Ms. MAYAS: Too many people who dont know anything about anything say too much about what they dont know.

MCCUNE: And then there are the con artists - unqualified consultants who overcharge and misfile papers.

Alphonso David of the New York Attorney General's Office says one woman paid a company several thousand dollars to submit her application.

Mr. ALPHONSO DAVID (Division of Human Rights, New York State): She recently received notification from the federal government that the application was rejected because they failed to complete the paperwork properly. And they have refused to provide her with a refund.

MCCUNE: More than one in 10 applications are rejected by the government simply because the forms weren't filled out correctly. David says so far New York's attorney general has subpoenaed documents from at least six businesses he suspects are cheating Haitians out of money and the chance to become legal.

Unidentified Man #3: It's Ruth Pierre, you said?

Ms. PIERRE: Yes, uh-huh.

MCCUNE: When Ruth Pierre and her son filled out their applications, legal aid lawyers helped them for free. And it was complicated; her son even had to collect court records regarding a minor misdemeanor to make sure it didnt disqualify him.

Ms. Pierre says the opportunity to become legal, even if just for 18 months, has made her son work harder in high school.

Ms. PIERRE: It's hard. He didnt see where he's going to go. What is the use for it?

MCCUNE: Now he can see he's going somewhere, she says. And she can see she's going somewhere too. While waiting at the job center for a resume workshop, she carefully unfolds a poster-size employee of the month certificate from years ago, when she worked illegally in Florida as a nursing assistant. It describes how thoroughly her patients appreciated her work.

Ms. PIERRE: At the end of the day, when they say thank you, I say it went right to my heart. Ill give anything for that feeling, uh-huh.

MCCUNE: Pierre is hoping to attend a training to become a home health attendant in the next couple weeks. But without subway fare she'll have to wait for one she can get to on foot.

For NPR News, Im Marianne McCune in New York.

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