Federal permission allowing illegal immigrants from Haiti to stay in the US, given last week, came with a requirement that many might find hard to meet. The immigrants must be able to show that they were in the United States when the Jan. 12 earthquake struck their nation.
Today, immigration officials outlined how Haitian immigrants here illegally, many of whom lack official paperwork, can try to show they were here before the earthquake. They can submit documents such as affidavits from relatives testifying to their presence, letters from employers, medical bills, and baptismal certificates, the officials said.
"More is better," said Russell Owen, chief of staff for the New Jersey district of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. "Whatever documents they can provide to us for us to review for possible adjudication, submit."
In a national conference call and during meetings across the country, Owen and other immigration officials today reviewed the ins and outs of post-earthquake rules affecting Haitian immigrants. They offered other tips on applying for the "temporary protected status" that lets illegal immigrants stay at least 18 months; warned applicants to beware of unqualified scammers offering legal help; and stressed that Haitians who arrive here after the earthquake will be sent back.
The United States now grants temporary protected status (TPS) to qualifying citizens of six countries — Haiti, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia, and Sudan — devastated by natural disasters, military conflicts and other problems. TPS allows illegal immigrants from a country to remain in the United States for 18 months, though the status is often renewed if conditions do not improve in a country. Those eligible for TPS do not automatically receive it. They have to apply for it. A total of between 100,000 and 200,000 people are expected to file for TPS.
Owen urged people who think they need help filling out their application to either hire an attorney or consult reputable community organizations. He warned against scammers who charge high fees and pretend to be knowledgeable about application procedures.
Reputable organizations, he said, "will not charge exorbitant fees and will process the applications properly and efficiently."
Immigration officials warned that anyone who arrives in this country illegally after the Jan. 12 earthquake will be slated for deportation.
"It’s very important to communicate that," Alejandro Mayorkas, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, told community organization leaders in Newark and other cities yesterday, in a conference call. "Because from our experience the effort to leave Haiti by sea on one’s own is both dangerous and life-threatening. We’ve seen a lot of lost lives in these kinds of tragedies caused by that. And we will ... as a department repatriate those (Haitians.)"