Fewer Haitian nationals than expected are applying for temporary protected status after earthquakePublished: Tuesday, June 22, 2010, 5:15 AM Jeff Diamant/The Star-Ledger
AP Photo/Alan Diaz
Haitian national Carole Manigat, left, holds her daughter Hadassa Carole Albert, 4, as she waits for her turn to fill out temporary protective status papers, in this January 2010 file photo.
Fewer people than expected are using a program that lets Haitian nationals in the United States — even those here illegally — stay in this country for 12 to 18 months rather than be involuntarily returned to Haiti, which is still dealing with the aftermath of January’s devastating earthquake, Haitian community leaders say.
Federal authorities had speculated 100,000 to 200,000 would apply for "temporary protected status," or TPS, when the humanitarian program was announced after the earthquake. But as the July 20 application deadline looms, only 53,000 have applied, immigration officials say.
In New Jersey, which has the nation’s fourth-largest Haitian population, only 2,200 have applied even though more than 15,000 are eligible, mostly in Essex and Union counties, said Catherine Saintilien, executive director of Jefferson Parks Ministries in Elizabeth, the state’s largest social-services agency for Haitians.
Saintilien offered two reasons on why more Haitians have not applied: She said some live under false identities and lack the proof of residency requested by the TPS application. And those who have successfully stayed under the U.S. government’s radar wonder if applying now will help authorities deport them when TPS expires.
"They are afraid this is a way for the government to find out where they are, and that when they’re ready to get rid of them, they could," she said. "And they are concerned: After 18 months, what happens? Now the government knows where they are."
"I hope the Haitian community really trusts the message that ... this is not a trap," Saintilien said. "This is real."
More than 230,000 people died in the Jan. 12 quake, which also left a million Haitians homeless. TPS allows Haitians in the United States not only to stay here, but to work here and apply for a driver’s license. Only Haitians who were already in this country at the time of the quake are eligible.
The federal agency that runs the program, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, has been spreading the word about TPS in Haitian communities. The agency’s New Jersey field office has answered questions on Haitian radio stations and at community forums, with the next one scheduled at 10 a.m. tomorrow in East Orange, at 15 Prospect St. Sandra Demesier of East Orange successfully applied for TPS earlier this year.
"I feel a little better, because I can drive now," she said. "But some people (Haitians) are not aware of this program. They don’t know what TPS stands for."
TPS application information and forms are available at [Vous devez être inscrit et connecté pour voir ce lien]
. Application fees run $470, though people can ask to have fees waived. People with one felony conviction or two misdemeanor convictions are ineligible.
The United States now grants TPS to qualifying citizens of six countries — Haiti, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia, and Sudan — devastated by natural disasters, military conflicts or other problems. While TPS initially lasts for about a year, it is often renewed in 18-month increments if conditions do not improve in a country.