March 2010

City Bar Helps Haitian Nationals Seek Temporary Protected Status

Lawyers at Haiti Clinic

Volunteer attorneys line up outside the City Bar building before the start of a recent clinic for Haitian nationals.  Over 150 volunteered.

On January 15, three days after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, the U.S. government announced the availability of Temporary Protected Status to undocumented Haitian nationals living in the U.S.  On January 28th, the City Bar Justice Center hosted the first large free legal clinic for Haitian New Yorkers applying for Temporary Protected Status.  In all, 83 clients were assisted by over 150 volunteer lawyers, interpreters, and notaries, with slightly over 40 applications completed by the end of the night.  The evening clinic was co-sponsored by the American Immigration Lawyers Association's New York City Chapter and the New York City Bar Committee on Immigration and Nationality Law.

Clients walking in to the Justice Center’s clinic were handed several packets of paper: an intake form printed in English, French, and Creole; a flyer with the basics of TPS; and the I-821 TPS application with its accompanying I-765 work authorization form.  As they progressed through initial intake and, with the help of interpreters, to either a general counselor or a ‘complex cases’ room, some were also handed a fee waiver affidavit or, where appropriate, an I-601 ‘waiver of grounds of inadmissibility’ form.  This meant some clients were sifting through nearly forty pages of documents.  

“The process requires a lot of work and can be daunting, to say the least,” said Lynn Kelly, Executive Director of the Justice Center.  “Our clinic aimed to make sure all TPS forms were filled out completely and correctly, because mistakes are easy to make and can cost someone a successful application.”

The immigration process is never simple, and TPS applications are no exception.  For the TPS application itself (I-821), applicants must submit documentation to prove identity and nationality, date of entry into the U.S. before January 12th (the day of the earthquake), current residence in the U.S., as well as fingerprints, photographs, and a signature.  The I-821 carries a fee of $50, and an $80 fee is charged for processing biometrics.  Applicants who need work authorization approved must pay another $340.

The $480 cost can be waived with a fee waiver application, which requires proof of poverty.  This proof can come in the form of an affidavit from relatives or friends helping support the applicant.  However, as Kelly notes, it can be an “unsettling” prospect for an applicant to submit names and contact information of family members to the government.

There are over twenty conditions that can disqualify a TPS application, ranging from having two misdemeanors to diagnosis of certain communicable diseases.  Applicants can petition for a ‘Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility.”

Challenges to Applicants
Early in February, it was reported that of an estimated 200,000 undocumented Haitians in the U.S., only 1,500 had submitted applications for Temporary Protected Status. “Based on our early clinic, I think that some potential applicants may be saving up to pay the fees,” said Kelly.  “Fear also plays a role: it is a big step for someone who has been living under the radar to come forward and let themselves be known.  No one is sure what will happen at the end of the TPS period.”  

Scammers are also rampant, with nightly news reports focused recently on a number of scammers offering "assistance" with TPS applications, and often charging double the normal cost of a TPS application.

The Justice Center may consider hosting another clinic before the 180-day window closes on TPS applications.  Between now and July, almost 30 different clinics have been planned by organizations around the city.  A listing of available clinics and resources can be found here.

“At this point, we don’t know what will happen at the end of the 18-month TPS period,” said Kiera LoBreglio, immigration attorney and Fragomen fellow at the Justice Center.  “But, if someone meets all the qualifications for TPS, applying for and securing status can open up a lot of opportunities, like work authorization.”  However, as LoBreglio notes, deciding to apply is a complex process, with many factors at play. “[T]he next few months will show us whether the temporary protected status will truly be utilized by New York’s Haitian community or not.”