Fewer Haitians seeking US protection

Estimate of 200,000 cut

When
U.S. officials granted temporary protected status to Haitians in the United
States days after the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti, they expected as many as
200,000 applications. But nearly three months later, federal officials say
42,942 Haitians have filed for TPS.

So
far, the number of filings more closely matches the numbers initially predicted
by local immigrant rights activists. They said in late January that they
expected about 30,000 undocumented Haitians to apply for TPS.

A
few days ago, a federal immigration official conceded that the original estimate
may have been excessive, citing subsequent consultations with immigration
advocates and experts. The official from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration
Services said the new official estimate is between 70,000 and 100,000.

“We
had this initial burst of activity and interest and that has slowed down,”
said Randolph McGrorty, executive director of the Catholic Legal Services.

McGrorty
and other South Florida immigration attorneys – long-time champions for TPS,
well before the quake — say they anticipate a “surge” as the July 20
deadline nears. They attribute the drop to a $470 application fee, a community
fear of being “trapped” by federal authorities and a complicated application
process.

RUMORS

USCIS
and community groups, such as the Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center in Miami,
have held forums and meetings to help answer questions about TPS or help fill
out paperwork. They’ve also warned prospective applicants about scams and
sought to defuse rumours.

“The
rumour mill is alive and well and people are distorting facts, misinformed,
afraid, apprehensive and assuming the worst,” said Gepsie Metellus, executive
director of Sant La. “As service providers, we need to get the real word out
there.”

On
March 16, more than 500 Haitians, including several children, showed up at the
Miami field office of USCIS to be fingerprinted and photographed — part of the
processing of their applications for TPS.

TPS
shields undocumented immigrants from detention and deportation. In the case of
Haitian TPS, the protection from deportation will last 18 months, though the
benefit is expected to be renewed as TPS has been renewed repeatedly for
Central Americans.

WORK PERMITS

Applicants
can also request work permits, which immigration officials say they plan to
start issuing soon. Immigration advocates say the work permits are critical
because they allow Haitian nationals here to wire remittances to family members
back in Haiti whose homes were wrecked in the quake.

The
Haitian group was from the first wave of applicants who filed petitions shortly
after the U.S. government granted the benefit following the 7.0-magnitude
earthquake that destroyed much of Port-au-Prince. The quake killed more than
200,000 people and displaced 1.3 million, according to the government.

On
Jan. 20, USCIS chief Alejandro Mayorkas said that between 100,000 and 200,000
undocumented Haitians were expected to file petitions before the filing
deadline of July 20.

After
Mayorkas announced the higher figure, some area activists revised their
figures, but their projections were still much lower than official projections.

The
Migration Policy Institute, an immigration policy center in Washington,
estimated in a recent analysis that only about 70,000 Haitians might be
eligible for TPS.

Some
of the TPS applicants who showed up for processing, speculated that many
Haitians may wait until the last minute to file petitions because they are
saving money to cover the steep filing fee.

The
total cost of a TPS application is $470, which includes $50 for the application
itself, $340 for a work permit and $80 for “biometrics,” the fingerprinting
and photographing process.

“A
lot of people have difficulty finding the money to pay for all the fees associated
with TPS and they either don’t have the money or are saving right now to pay
for it and file before the deadline,” said Jacquelin Norelus, 33, a cab driver
and restaurant worker.

Marjorie
Dabady, who showed up at the field office Wednesday for fingerprinting, said
she didn’t have the money to cover the fees but that she was able to pay
because her husband gave her the money.

“I
am not working and without my husband I would not have been able to pay for the
service,” she said.

She
also said that TPS forms are so complex that many people need help from
attorneys or notaries to fill them out.

“We
paid $100 to someone who helped us,” she said.

WAIVERS

Though
applicants can request fee waivers, not all waivers are approved. According to
figures provided by USCIS, 2,307 applicants have asked for fee waivers, but
only 1,174 have been approved. Activists and even a Miami-Dade County
commissioner have called for the complete waiving of application fees.

Dabady’s
husband, Olivier, a nurse, said he and his wife considered asking for a fee
waiver but decided against it because they didn’t want to go through the
“anxiety” of waiting for an approval or rejection, or having to wait longer
for their TPS request to be processed.

The
main reasons for rejection include not enclosing the correct filing fee, not
completing forms, failing to include biographical information and not signing
forms.

WORLDaeiralSTORY

An aerial view of Port-au-Prince, Haiti shows the proximity of homes, many damaged in a major earthquake and subsequent aftershocks, on March 16, 2010. UPI/Spike Call/U.S.
Photo: UPI/Spike Call/U.S.
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