UMCOR Helps Haitians Stay in U.S.
A UMNS Story
By Kathy L. Gilbert
March 10, 2010—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 help.
“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 “slim.”
“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.
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 months.
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 Advance #901285.
*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.