<a href=”http://media.theworld.org/audio/071320108.mp3″>Download MP3</a>Florida has the largest Haitian population in the country and close to two thirds of Temporary Protected Status applications processed so far in US have been from Florida. The problem is that the numbers are far lower than everyone thought they would be. From ‘Under the Sun‘ and WLRN in Miami, Alicia Zuckerman reports. (Photo: Alicia Zuckerman).
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MARCO WERMAN: The earthquake that struck Haiti earlier this year killed 230,000 people and leveled much of the capital, Port-au-Prince. Yesterday marked exactly six months since the catastrophe and the US took the occasion to give Haitians more time to apply to legally stay here. Haitians already living in the US illegally when the earthquake struck now have until January to apply for temporary protected status, or TPS. Thousands of Haitians have already applied, but even more have not. From Miami, Alicia Zuckerman, co-host of Under the Sun on WLRN, explains.
ALICIA ZUCKERMAN: Luders is hosing down the driveway in front of his pink house in North Miami. The house has a pool and a mango tree.
LUDERS: Oh, I do that everyday.
ZUCKERMAN: Everyday, you clean the driveway?
LUDERS: Yes, because the oil from my wife’s car. I don’t have money to fix it, so every morning.
ZUCKERMAN: Luders first came to the US in 1981 legally and worked as a cook. But his status changed in the last three decades. And now without his papers, Luders says he can’t find a job. He’s worried about losing his house. Luders is not his real name. He asked us to call him that. He was home listening to the radio in January, when he heard that temporary protective status had been granted to Haitians.
LUDERS: Oh, my God. My reaction is like, God, thank you God. I’m going to have my papers.
ZUCKERMAN: But it wasn’t that easy.
LUDERS: So when they tell me I have a problem with, are you a criminal or something like that, I said why.
ZUCKERMAN: Luders has two traffic-related offenses. Two misdemeanors or one felony disqualify potential applicants from TPS. His lawyer says it’s not clear whether he’s eligible.
LUDERS: The kids. I already got plans for them. You want your kids to be, to be something like higher than me.
ZUCKERMAN: For the moment, he and his family are in an agonizing limbo. And his lawyer Becky Sharpless doesn’t have any easy answers.
LUDERS: If they don’t give me a work permit, how are they going to do, they going to send me to Haiti?
BECKY SHARPLESS: Well, that’s the million dollar question.
LUDERS: Yeah, they going to deport me? Why do they apply the law? Why didn’t they say okay – I don’t understand.
ZUCKERMAN: Sharpless also runs the immigration clinic at the University of Miami’s law school. In early March, law students from around the country volunteered to spend spring break helping Haitians fill out the applications.
MALE SPEAKER: Bank statements, insurance bills, everything.
ZUCKERMAN: The process of applying for TPS is not simple. One of the applicants holds up a bulging pink folder. Like many Haitian TPS applicants, he asked us not to use his name.
MALE SPEAKER: I had to do this because it’s not good to live illegal in a country like that, cause there’s so much opportunity you’re going to miss. Now, I’m trying to do the right thing.
ZUCKERMAN: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, known as CIS, predicted up to 200,000 Haitians living in the US could apply for TPS. So far 55,000 have applied.
CHERYL LITTLE: What we were hoping was going to be a great time in many ways has been very troubling.
ZUCKERMAN: Attorney Cheryl Little runs the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center. She says there are three reasons why. The nearly $500 cost, scammers…
LITTLE: … but most importantly, fear.
ZUCKERMAN: In some Haitian circles, TPS is known as “Ti Pelen Sosyal,” Creole for “Lil’ Social Trap.” Some Haitians are afraid that the US government will use their information to deport them. I mentioned this to Linda Swacina, the Miami District Director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services.
LINDA SWACINA: We want to try and get the message out don’t be afraid, this is not a trap. Other countries have gone through this without the consequences that they’re fearing. And there’s just such great benefits to being able to live and work legally in the United States.
ZUCKERMAN: Immigration advocate Cheryl Little has been a harsh critic of US policy toward Haitians. But she says this time CIS has gone out of its way to make sure that as many Haitians who are eligible for TPS can get it. Wigginson Theodore lives with his parents and four siblings in a one-bedroom apartment in North Miami. In March, they paid almost $3,000 to apply for temporary protected status and got their papers six weeks later. They say TPS has given their family a sense of pride. Wigginson graduated from high school in June.
WIGGINSON THEODORE: My dream is I want to study criminal justice. And then be a police officer.
ZUCKERMAN: Wigginson’s parents are studying English. His brother hopes he can become a doctor someday and his sister would like to become a nurse. But that’s a ways off. Temporary protected status is just that. Temporary. Unless the government extends it, TPS will expire a year from now. I asked Wigginson’s mother Marie if she thinks about what happens after that.
MARIE: I was thinking that after the TPS, they would automatically give us residency.
ZUCKERMAN: This is one of many misconceptions about TPS. It’s not a permanent solution. But the Haitian government sees it as a solution of sorts. It’s lobbied for TPS for a long time. That’s in part because Haitians in the US send home more than a billion dollars a year. For the World, I’m Alicia Zuckerman, in Miami.
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