Legal Floodgates Open: Undocumented Haitians Now Have Chance to Live, Work Legally in U.S.

Renee Feltz Feb 19, 2010

Just three days after the earthquake, immigration officials granted Temporary Protective Status (TPS) to Haitians living illegally in the United States. Reports soon surfaced of Haitians paying as much as $2,000 for help filing their TPS applications. But hundreds of Haitians got legitimate help at TPS Assistance events organized by The Legal Aid Society and City University of New York’s Citizenship Now Project.

Temporary Protective Status grants Haitians without documentation who were in the United States before the earthquake the legal right to live and work in the United States for 18 months, and potentially longer, if the status is renewed.

The first TPS Assistance event was held in an auditorium at Medgar Evers College, Jan. 30, where 700 students of Haitian descent are enrolled. Volunteer lawyers helped complete applications for TPS and employment authorization, and applicants could apply to waive the $470 fee ($50 for those under age 14).

“I met people who’ve been here for 20 years and now suddenly realized they have an opportunity to work and make an honest days wage and be able to help family members back home,” said the event’s co-organizer, Jo Jo Annobil, the attorney in charge of the Immigration Law Unit for The Legal Aid Society.

Volunteers also screened applicants’ criminal backgrounds to determine if they had multiple misdemeanors or a felony that would make them ineligible for TPS, but possibly eligible for a different legal status.

“Even if you’re not able to help someone with TPS,” Annobil said, “you are able to educate them about immigration law. They are able to go back to their community and give this information to someone else.”

Annobil estimates volunteers helped complete 400 TPS applications. As many as 50,000 Haitians city-wide could be eligible.

“People have been clamoring for TPS for Haitians for a very long time,” Annobil said.

The push to grant TPS to Haitians heated up in 2008 when almost one million people were left homeless after the country suffered four tropical cyclones. High food prices left 2.3 million people hungry. The Obama administration denied Haitians TPS as recently as March 2009.

The deadline for Haitians to apply for TPS is July 25. Haitians seeking TPS assistance can call 1-888-284-2772. Volunteers who want to assist in upcoming TPS Assistance events by providing French or Creole translation can contact The Legal Aid Society at

For more of the Indypendent’s coverage of Haiti from the current issue:

Beyond Port-au-Prince: Grassroots Women’s Group Brings Aid to Remote, Hard-Hit Areas of Haiti,” By Judith De Los Santos, Feb. 19, 2010

Compassion of the Church: Springing Faith into Action for Haiti,” By Jaisal Noor, Feb. 19, 2010

The U.S. in Haiti: Neoliberalism at the Barrel of a Gun,” By Arun Gupta, Feb. 19, 2010

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