WASHINGTON — The United States on Monday granted Haitians living illegally in the country before January’s devastating earthquake a six-month extension to apply for a special asylum relief program.
In the days after the January 12 earthquake, President Barack Obama’s administration gave Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to thousands of Haitians who have sneaked into the United States in the past years.
An immigrant granted TPS can stay legally in the United States for 18 months without fear of deportation, and following a review of their case, can obtain a temporary work permit.
“Eligible Haitian nationals will have an additional 180 days to apply for Temporary Protected Status,” said a statement from the department of US Citizenship and Immigration Services.
“Many Haitians need more time to apply for TPS,” the statement added.
Only Haitians living in the United States prior to the earthquake that flattened the capital Port-au-Prince and surrounding towns at the cost of some 250,000 lives are eligible.
The new deadline for applications to be filed is January 18, 2011.
The special protection, which allows groups of illegal immigrants to renew or obtain drivers licenses, and work legally, is meant as relief for countries reeling from natural disaster or political strife.
Supporters argue that the move helps Haiti to rebuild, as immigrants send remittances to loved ones in the poorest country in the Americas, which is struggling to rebuild exactly six months after the 7.0-magnitude earthquake.
Before the order was given in January, authorities had been processing deportation orders for 30,000 Haitians now in the United States.
The non-profit Migration Policy Institute however says 76,000 illegal immigrants from Haiti live in the United States, with a further 535,000 legally residing here, two thirds of them being adults of a working age.
Hundreds of Haitians attempt the perilous 700-mile (1,100-kilometer) journey to the Florida coast each year, some in rafts, others smuggled by traffickers.
But US officials estimate that thousands of Haitians have died at sea in failed bids to flee the poverty, unrest and natural disasters that have beset their homeland for decades.
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