Here and There: Haiti’s Recovery

Wednesday, January 12th marked the one-year anniversary of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that killed an estimated 316,000 people and devastated Haiti.  Initial reports estimated that rebuilding efforts would reach $14 billion, and the world responded.  $2 billion in support was pledged by the public sector worldwide, and $2 billion dollars was raised by private relief organizations.

Despite this unprecedented amount of support, recovery has been slow, and with delays come frustrations.  The daunting task of recovery was not limited to those in Haiti.  According to the 2007 American Community Survey, there were an estimated 14,361 Haitian-born immigrants living in Boston, and the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2008 figures estimated that 37,936 Haitian-born immigrants lived in Massachusetts.  Many of these residents felt compelled to house injured or traumatized loved-ones, a financial burden that exacerbates their emotional stress.

In response to the growing humanitarian crisis, the Obama administration extended Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to those Haitians present in the country.  TPS afforded those Haitians who were in irregular immigration status a chance to register with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).  Once awarded TPS, these individuals are eligible to work and to receive public assistance as they update their job skills, improve their English proficiency, or begin their emotional recovery through counseling.

Officials initially expected a flood of between 100,000 and 200,000 petitions when TPS was first granted on January 15th, 2010.  However, as of July 20th, the first deadline, only 35,000 of 55,000 petitions had been approved, and reports of lower-than-expected volume were common.  To give Haitian Nationals more time to register and collect the required documentation, officials extended the TPS deadline to January 18th.

TPS has been invaluable to those Haitian Nationals wishing to rebuild their lives, and the local philanthropic community has responded in turn.  Yet, those Haitians who fled their country after the earthquake and entered the US on short-term business or tourist visas have no recourse to TPS.  There are reports of these individuals now rely heavily on the goodwill of friends, family, and private social service organizations, and have overstayed their visas.  These individuals are not permitted to work, nor are they eligible for any public support benefits, such as food stamps or job training vouchers.

The number of those living in this state of chronic insecurity is not fully known, but Catholic Charities officials report that at least 330 people in Greater Boston face this circumstance.  USCIS recently announced that Haitian Nationals who have overstayed their visas are eligible to apply for Deferred Status (DS). Individuals granted DS are considered lawfully present and eligible to work.  However, being granted DS does not erase a record of unlawful presence.

The fear of legal action, including deportation, weighs heavily on Boston’s Haitian community.  Nationwide, only 785 applications for DS have been received, of which only 19 percent have been approved.  Given such a low approval rate and the legal uncertainties following official registration, advocacy organizations are fearful that this group will remain in the shadows, living with the stress of isolation, the specter of exploitation, and the fear of deportation.

Yesterday, we learned that deportation proceedings for this segment of the Haitian community have begun.

Photo courtesy of Master Sgt. Jeremy Lock, USAF (public domain), via Wikimedia Commons.

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