Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Time To Roll Up the Sleeves for Haiti...Beginning with Uncle Sam's TPS Fee

Linda Osberg-Braun, Roger's law partner, knows a thing or two about TPS.  Actually, to be fair, there is not a lot about immigration relief and benefits about which Linda is NOT an expert.  So it is quite befitting that tomorrow,  Linda will be at the University of Miami teaching those of us who don't know much about Temporary Protected Status - both practicing attorneys as well as law students -- the basics we need to help qualified Haitians in the U.S. apply for this just-granted benefit.  Through the benefits of lawful temporary status and employment authorization, Haitians in South Florida will begin to plant the seeds of restoration and self-sufficiency that will ultimately rebuild the battered island nation.

Melissa Swain, UM Staff Attorney with the Children and Youth law Clinic/Community Health Rights Education Clinic and all-around superhero, put together the program.  Her idea was to let those of us who'd like to do our part "learn the ropes" about TPS form completion from Linda so that we can get out there and start helping.

Just days ago, TPS designation was made available to qualified Haitians in the U.S.  Historically, most TPS grants by the USG have been driven by political turmoil in the home nation; the regulations contemplate the issuance of TPS in cases of natural disaster...and the depth and scope of the Haitian earthquake eclipses anything anyone in Washington ever imagined.  Haitians in Florida, documented and undocumented, are fiercely loyal to
their families back home in ordinary circumstances.  I can tell you
from witnessing the dynamics at the big Haitian shipping yard several
hundred yards from my house on the Miami River, the mobilization and
effort by Miami's Haitian community toward sending emergency supplies has been extraordinary.  TPS will, in effect, permit those here to work legally on a temporary basis and send the money home to those most in need.

Two big hurdles for Haitian TPS applicants: the first problem, of course, is that to get immigration benefits under TPS (or under any other program, for that matter), you have to apply.  Already the scams are emerging, and between the language issues and the totally new appearance of TPS as a possibility, the community is ripe for exploitation here in South Florida.  Between the flood of shameless opportunists - which includes not only the "notarios" but several bottom-feeding attorneys, at least so far -- and Little Haiti's Coconut Telegraph, it's a race to educate the community and distinguish the good guys from the bad guys.  So far, the primary (sole?) resources offering pro bono TPS registration has been the overwhelmed Haitian Refugee Center and Catholic Charities.  After tomorrow, thanks to Linda and Melissa, there will be reinforcements to increase the volunteer ranks.

The second hurdle: filing fees.  Even with volunteers preparing the forms, the necessary filing fees are $470 per application...for people from a country where the per capita income is $480.52 per person. Source: Nationlink.  Yes, a fee waiver process exists...but it delays the processing of the employment authorization, step one which will significantly increase the influx of desperately needed capital into Haiti.  The U.S. government needs to act swiftly to administratively waive TPS application fees for Haitians, at least for several months, to get the money flowing from South Florida's Haitian community to their families back home.

Look, when we invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein, it took duffle bags full of cash to get uncooperative tribal leaders to chill out and cooperate with the ensuing chaos.  Is it so difficult to waive a filing fee, let these folks get to work, and jump-start the repatriation of earnings to those on the island.

Linda and Melissa(s): you guys rock and I'll be there bright and early tomorrow, dumb questions and all...

For information on filing for Haitian Temporary Protected Status (TPS), here is the new link from the USCIS:

USCIS Page on Haitian TPS



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