Monday, January 25, 2010

Temporary Protection for Haitian Immigrants (WBRU - Providence, RI)

The Pulse, 1/24/10: Temporary Protection for Haitian Immigrants

When the earthquake struck Haiti last week, about 30,000 illegal Haitian immigrants to the U-S were waiting to be deported, according to the Christian Science Monitor. Officials put a temporary stop to that. A few days later, the Department of Homeland Security announced it would offer Haitians a Temporary Protective Status to let them stay in the country for 18 months. But that plan isn’t as simple as it sounds. WBRU’s Emily Jones has more.

“Right now, the Haitian community in the United States is unable to go back to their country, so we’re giving them a safe haven in the interim.”

That’s Luz Irazadel, a spokesperson for US Citizenship and Immigration Services. She explains the government offers Temporary Protective Status, or TPS, when something like a natural disaster or political unrest makes it unsafe for immigrants to go home. And she says it’s important for undocumented Haitians to apply.

“It’s an opportunity for them to be legally present in the United States and, if they choose to, be able to work.”

Beginning last Thursday Haitians in the US since the day of the quake or before could start applying.

But they don’t get TPS automatically. Bruno Sukys is director of citizenship and immigration services for the International Institute of Rhode Island, which offers help with the application. He explains there are a lot of problems with the program – starting with the price.

“We’ve been getting a lot of inquiries but from my sense when you tell them what the price is, the 470, I think that’s got to be a huge stumbling block because 470 dollars is a lot of money, it’s almost 500 dollars.”

That fee covers fingerprints and all the documentation that goes with TPS. The Institute and USCIS both stress that’s all immigrants have to pay – and they should watch out for anyone charging to help with the process.

Still, Sukys says the fee to the government is steep, and that’s the help Haitians in the US really need.

“Maybe this is where we can be talking about Haitian relief – sending Haitian relief, which is fine and dandy. Maybe we should get a Haitian relief here in the state of Rhode Island so we can have a packet of money for people to have available so they can offset some of these fees.”

And Sukys says it isn’t just the fee that turns people away. He and Michelle DePlante, also of the International Institute, explain many don’t trust the government.

Bruno: “There’s always a fear factor. Many people don’t want to come out because they think this is a conspiracy, that this is a way for immigration to get people.

Michelle: “Essentially once they apply for this TPS they’re giving all their information to the government. And if the government decides in 18 months not to renew this status then the government will have all their information and they won’t be protected.”

Opponents of TPS are worried about the opposite problem – that it will mean amnesty. Terry Gorman is executive director of Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement. He says an earthquake doesn’t change the fact that illegal immigrants have broken the law.

“Because there was a disaster in Haiti, we shouldn’t be allowing lawbreakers to continue to reside in the United States. If there was a hurricane that devastated Florida, we wouldn’t say all the criminals in Florida, we’re gonna wave your sentence because there was a big hurricane and you don’t have a place to live.”

But Bruno Sukys doesn’t buy that argument.

“We’re into this punishment thing. We’re into punish, punish, punish, punish. Granted, there’s some folks who are bad apples. And even I would say, I don’t want the bad apples here in the United States either. But there’s some people for different circumstances who are here – they want to have a better future.

And he says for immigrants risking deportation to a devastated country, TPS is the best option – a way to stay protected, and a way to get work.

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