By TRENTON DANIEL and ALFONSO CHARDY, The Miami Herald
The new official estimate for Haitians expected to file for temporary protected status has fallen from 200,000 to between 70,000 and 100,000.
When U.S. officials granted temporary protected status to Haitians in the United States days after the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti, they expected as many as 200,000 applications. But nearly three months later, federal officials say 42,942 Haitians have filed for TPS.
So far, the number of filings more closely matches the numbers initially predicted by local immigrant rights activists. They said in late January that they expected about 30,000 undocumented Haitians to apply for TPS.
A few days ago, a federal immigration official conceded that the original estimate may have been excessive, citing subsequent consultations with immigration advocates and experts. The official from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said the new official estimate is between 70,000 and 100,000.
“We had this initial burst of activity and interest and that has slowed down,” said Randolph McGrorty, executive director of the Catholic Legal Services.
McGrorty and other South Florida immigration attorneys — longtime champions for TPS, well before the quake — say they anticipate a “surge” as the July 20 deadline nears. They attribute the drop to a $470 application fee, a community fear of being “trapped” by federal authorities and a complicated application process.
USCIS and community groups, such as the Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center in Miami, have held forums and meetings to help answer questions about TPS or help fill out paperwork. They’ve also warned prospective applicants about scams and sought to defuse rumors.
“The rumor mill is alive and well and people are distorting facts, misinformed, afraid, apprehensive and assuming the worst,” said Gepsie Metellus, executive director of Sant La. “As service providers, we need to get the real word out there.”
On March 16, more than 500 Haitians, including several children, showed up at the Miami field office of USCIS to be fingerprinted and photographed — part of the processing of their applications for TPS.
TPS shields undocumented immigrants from detention and deportation. In the case of Haitian TPS, the protection from deportation will last 18 months, though the benefit is expected to be renewed as TPS has been renewed repeatedly for Central Americans.
Applicants can also request work permits, which immigration officials say they plan to start issuing soon. Immigration advocates say the work permits are critical because they allow Haitian nationals here to wire remittances to family members back in Haiti whose homes were wrecked in the quake.
The Haitian group was from the first wave of applicants who filed petitions shortly after the U.S. government granted the benefit following the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that destroyed much of Port-au-Prince. The quake killed more than 200,000 people and displaced 1.3 million, according to the government.
On Jan. 20, USCIS chief Alejandro Mayorkas said that between 100,000 and 200,000 undocumented Haitians were expected to file petitions before the filing deadline of July 20.
After Mayorkas announced the higher figure, some area activists revised their figures, but their projections were still much lower than official projections.
The Migration Policy Institute, an immigration policy center in Washington, estimated in a recent analysis that only about 70,000 Haitians might be eligible for TPS.
Some of the TPS applicants who showed up for processing, speculated that many Haitians may wait until the last minute to file petitions because they are saving money to cover the steep filing fee.
The total cost of a TPS application is $470, which includes $50 for the application itself, $340 for a work permit and $80 for “biometrics,” the fingerprinting and photographing process.
“A lot of people have difficulty finding the money to pay for all the fees associated with TPS and they either don’t have the money or are saving right now to pay for it and file before the deadline,” said Jacquelin Norelus, 33, a cab driver and restaurant worker.
Marjorie Dabady, who showed up at the field office Wednesday for fingerprinting, said she didn’t have the money to cover the fees but that she was able to pay because her husband gave her the money.
“I am not working and without my husband I would not have been able to pay for the service,” she said.
She also said that TPS forms are so complex that many people need help from attorneys or notaries to fill them out.
“We paid $100 to someone who helped us,” she said.
Though applicants can request fee waivers, not all waivers are approved. According to figures provided by USCIS, 2,307 applicants have asked for fee waivers, but only 1,174 have been approved. Activists and even a Miami-Dade County commissioner have called for the complete waiving of application fees.
Dabady’s husband, Olivier, a nurse, said he and his wife considered asking for a fee waiver but decided against it because they didn’t want to go through the “anxiety” of waiting for an approval or rejection, or having to wait longer for their TPS request to be processed.
The main reasons for rejection include not enclosing the correct filing fee, not completing forms, failing to include biographical information and not signing forms.
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