Immigration officials, advocates encourage Haitians to file for TPS

The message from this morning’s information session was simple: Haitians should file for Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) held a briefing today to review the process of filing for TPS. Public officials, immigration attorneys and community advocates were on hand to reassure the Haitian community that it was safe to apply.

“We need to encourage families to do the right thing, to come forward. In the beginning, there was a lot of talk of the very real fears. But here we are 18 months later, 60,000 applicants have come forward,” said Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. “The power of advocacy is real.”

Of the 60,000 Haitian nationals who have filed for TPS since it was first granted last year, it is estimated that 4,000 Massachusetts residents have applied. This is a fairly low number given that Massachusetts is home to the third largest Haitian population in the U.S.

Last month Secretary Janet Napolitano of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), announced the re-designation of Haiti for TPS and extended the country's current TPS designation for 18 months - through Jan 22, 2013. The extension will be effective July 23, 2011 and allows Haitian beneficiaries to remain in the U.S. an additional 18 months - through Jan. 22, 2013.

Haiti is the ninth country in U.S. history to receive TPS due to a natural disaster.

Secretary Napolitano also made an important revision to the TPS rules: eligible Haitian nationals who have continuously resided in the United States since Jan. 12, 2011, will also be able to obtain TPS through Jan. 22, 2013. This permits eligible individuals who arrived up to one year after the earthquake in Haiti to receive the protection of TPS.

Local social service agencies have stepped up outreach efforts and increased the number of TPS legal clinics they offer. Marjean Perhot of Catholic Charities reported that in the last two weeks, 216 applicants have filed for TPS in their Brockton office.

“You can be assured that we will remain committed to this endeavor. We want everyone who is eligible, to take advantage of this opportunity to gain immigration status through TPS. We will continue to work with groups like the Haitian Multi Service Center, the Association of Haitian Women (AFAB), the Irish International Immigrant Center, the Haitian American Public Health Initiative (HAPHI) and the Greater Boston Nazarene Compassionate Center to do so.”

The larger issue of immigration reform surfaced during the session. State Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry called on the federal government to reform current immigration laws.

“It is something we have to do,” said Forry, who is married to Reporter editor Bill Forry. “We cannot rely on the states to do this alone.”

Millona said that immigration reform was a priority for the Obama administration.

“It is not a question of if, but a question of when,” she said.

For more information about filing for TPS, call the new TPS hotline 617-464-8004. Information is available in Haitian Creole.