5:30 P.M. EST March 4, 2010 | NASHVILLE (UMNS)
Attorney Thomas J. Mills (left) helps Haitian clients at Justice for Our
Neighbors’ New York clinic. A UMNS photo courtesy of Melissa
He lost his wife, his home and his job when the Jan. 12 earthquake
hit Haiti. The man identified only as “Bernard” also found himself
alone with an infant daughter.
He turned to his remaining family, a sister living in New York, for
“Marie,” like hundreds of thousands of Haitians living in the United
States, wants to bring her hurt and grieving family to live with her,
but her options are few.
T.J. Mills, an immigration attorney volunteering for the United
Methodist Committee on Relief’s Justice for Our Neighbors, explains to
the worried sister that her chances of reuniting with her family are
“The government is expediting some visas for immediate relatives
that were in process before the earthquake,” Mills said. “There are
instances of humanitarian parole, but these are rare and usually given
to people in urgent need of medical care.”
The United States government has offered Haitian immigrants
temporary protected status (TPS), but the process for bringing family
members into the country has not changed, Mills said.
More than 12,000 Haitians have applied for permits to live and work in
the United States since the Jan. 12 earthquake. A UMNS photo by Mike
Justice for Our Neighbors has joined with Church World Service
and other organizations to hold free clinics in churches and offices to
help Haitians apply for the permits.
“We’re talking about a community that already is stressed,” says
Panravee Vongjaroenrat, Justice for Our Neighbors director. “On top of
that, now they have lost family in Haiti or have surviving relatives
who want to join them here.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey,
more than 500,000 migrants from Haiti came to the United States in
2008. Of those, 230,000 were lawful permanent residents.
As of mid-February, 12,000 Haitians had applied for the permits,
which will allow them to live and work in the United States for 18
Mills and Mayuris Pimentel, a Justice for our Neighbors attorney in
Florida, said the numbers have been low so far at the clinics.
“The TPS program has specific limitations, so it is important that
people receive accurate information on whether to apply and on the
process of applying,” Vongjaroenrat said.
Those limitations include eligibility requirements. Haitians eligible
for temporary protected status are those who have resided continuously
in the United States since Jan. 12, and who have been physically
present here since Jan. 21. The deadline for applying is July 20.
Help from family
According to the World Bank, Haiti receives up to $1.8 billion in
remittances each year. Days after the earthquake, hundreds of thousands
of Haitians formed long lines outside banks and other finance
institutions, waiting for desperately needed help from family living
outside the country.
Haitians seeking help in the legal clinics spoke of nieces,
nephews, in-laws and siblings in Haiti who need their support all the
more since the Jan. 12 earthquake.
“Without documentation, it’s like you don’t exist in this country,”
said a woman who came to the United States “21 years ago, hoping for a
better life, to go to school, to have a decent job. That didn’t happen,
and I’m getting old now! I depend on friends to call me for odd jobs.
With TPS, I’ll be able to call potential employers myself.”
Another applicant described the extended family in Haiti that relies
on him for assistance. He said that, though undocumented, he
has been able to find enough work, but has been pained not to be able
to visit Haiti to see family – especially his son.
“When I left, my son was 3. Now he’s 21. We’ve not seen each other
all this time. We do our best,” he said.
“TPS provides short-term help to some, but Haitians and other
immigrants need lasting reform to reunite separated families, protect
workers and provide a pathway to legal status and eventual citizenship
for undocumented immigrants,” said the Rev. John L. McCullough, Church
World Service executive director.
UMCOR’s Justice for Our Neighbors ministry partners with annual
conferences and local churches to help sojourners navigate the complex
immigration system in the United States. Donations may be made to UMCOR
*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service in
Nashville, Tenn. Information from this report was provided by United
Methodist Committee on Relief and Church World Service.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470