As many as 200,000 undocumented Haitians could apply for Temporary Protected Status, granted by the Obama administration after the January 12th earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince and environs. But authorities are warning against scammers who are already preying on unwitting –or desperate– applicants.
A Haitian immigrant in New York told local channel NY1 about how a local Haitian organization charged her over $500 in fees when she filed her application to obtain TPS, which would entitle her to work and travel without fearing deportation. The owner, according to the report, said he did not know it was illegal to charge so much. But the State Attorney General’s office said that even $75 has been deemed excessive in court rulings.
After the government’s announcement that it was granting TPS to Haitians, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services cautioned potential applicants about possible scams. The Beyond Borders immigration blog lists useful resources for applicants provided by USCIS, including a guide to free legal advice and a list of accredited organizations.
On the bright side, many organizations are stepping forward to offer free legal help to undocumented Haitians.
Since Monday, the National Guard Armory in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, was to become a resource center for the Haitian community, set up by the city and the state, according to a press release. It provides TPS assistance, Creole-English interpreters, telephones to contact Haitian and U.S. officials, grief counseling and legal information.
In Connecticut, two lawyer groups will run legal clinics on TPS on Saturday in Hartford, Norwich, Stamford and New Haven, the Connecticut Law Tribune said.
Groups in South Florida are also helping out. Several groups are calling for bilingual volunteers to help assist Haitian residents and evacuees who arrive fleeing the dismal conditions in Port-au-Prince and its environs, The Miami Herald reported.
In Spring Valley, New York –which has one of the largest proportions of Haitian residents in the country–, federal immigration officials met with local leaders to address their doubts, according to LoHud.com.
As of Monday afternoon, however, only 1,500 people had applied for TPS, The National Journal reported:
… as applications trickle in, it’s becoming clear that TPS will not instantly unleash the flood of remittances that advocates hoped for. Immigrant advocacy groups in Florida say their offices are packed with Haitians looking for help with applications, but plenty of hurdles remain. The six-page application, filled with legal jargon, is “very, very time-consuming” and slowing down the process, argued Susana Barciela, policy director for the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, which has helped hundreds of would-be applicants already.