Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

U.S. may grant undocumented Haitians legal status

SOURCE: Mary Lou Pickel. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
DATE: January 14, 2010The Department of Homeland Security could grant legal status to
undocumented Haitians in the United States in the wake of that country’s
devastating earthquake, a top U.S. official said.

“We are aware of the devastation and loss that the people of Haiti are
suffering,” Alejandro Mayorkas, the chief of U.S. Citizenship and
Immigration Services, said Thursday in an interview with The Atlanta

“We are considering all alternatives available to us in extending a
helping hand to Haiti,” Mayorkas said. He confirmed those considerations
include temporary protected status for Haitians.

Mayorkas has been in frequent meetings the past two days with other
leaders in the Department of Homeland Security to “monitor the situation
carefully,” he said.

Temporary protected status, or TPS, is designed for people who are in
the United States at or before the time of a disaster and are not
documented. It is not designed to admit new immigrants from a country.

Charles Kuck, an Atlanta immigration lawyer, said TPS is designed to not
send people back to a country where their presence would make things worse.

On Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security issued a statement
that it has halted all “removals” of Haitians, meaning deportations and
voluntary departures, in light of the disaster.

Temporary protected status would go further and give undocumented
immigrants permission to stay in the U.S. and receive a work permit.

“It allows people from that country already in the U.S. to help rebuild
that country because they can work and send money back. It’s really a
foreign assistance plan as well,” Kuck said.

Central Americans have been given temporary protected status after
hurricanes and earthquakes.

“Haiti has had four hurricanes and an earthquake in the last 13 months,”
Kuck said. “If there is a time and place for TPS, this is the time and

To qualify for temporary protected status, an individual must be
physically present in the United States at a certain date, typically
before the disaster, Kuck said.

“You cannot have committed any crimes,” he said. “You are allowed to
come forward, you are fingerprinted and you are given a work permit. You
are allowed to stay here for the duration of time the government
determines, typically 18 months.”

Mayorkas will be in Atlanta on Friday morning to host a citizenship
ceremony at the King Center in honor of the birthday of the Rev. Martin
Luther King Jr. This year would have marked King’s 81st birthday, and
the ceremony will grant citizenship to 81 immigrants from around the
world. King’s daughter, the Rev. Bernice Albertine King, will be the
keynote speaker.

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