By Tony Best
Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News
“Act of humanity that extends beyond the boundaries of the United States and into the heart of Haiti.”
That reaction by New York City Councilmember Dr. Mathieu Eugene who has come to personify temporary protected status for Haitian refugees living in the United States summed up the feelings of many immigrants from the Caribbean nation living.
“TPS is another form of relief for Haitian immigrants and their families back home,” added the Brooklyn Democrat who represents parts of the Crown Heights community at City Hall. “It has brought smiles to the faces of people who were really very anxious about their future in the country after they were forced to leave their homeland in the wake of the devastating earthquake of four years ago.”
In what is being seen as a “major act of compassion,” the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services extended TPS for an additional 18 months, giving thousands of Haitians the right to study and live and work in the country without having to fear detention and ultimately deportation to their birthplace. The extension becomes effective on July 23 and runs through January 22, 2016 but to continue to receive the immigration benefits, Haitians must register between March 3 and May 2 this year.
As of December last year, 2, 637 Haitians in New York, New Jersey and other parts of the northeastern region had been granted TPS beginning in 2010. It was extended in 2011 and again the following year.
“Before the recent announcement by Washington people were coming to my office in Brooklyn in droves every day asking what they could expect,” added Dr. Eugene, the first Haitian-born elected official in New York to sit on the City Council. “The extension has lifted a weight off the shoulders of people who can concentrate on providing for their families and relatives, whether they are here in the U.S. or back home. The uncertainty was a great burden. When you receive TPS the benefits extend to people back home in Haiti who rely on their close relatives for support.”
Robert Cerelus, a Queens resident, said without the extension his life would have been turned upside down.
“The uncertainty was getting too many of us, not knowing if you were going to be ordered back home or allowed to stay and continue your life,” he said. “Just remember most of us came to the United States after experiencing the terrible tragedy of the January 2010 earthquake and the devastation, deaths, homelessness and broken lives left.”
When TPS was first granted to Haitians, Washington:
Gave a green light to al Haitian living in the country as undocumented immigrants to stay. Allowed orphans who were in the process of being adopted to enter the country citing humanitarian grounds.
Suspended deportations of all nationals of the Creole speaking country who were in “removal” proceedings.
Approved employment authorizations were Haitian students who were in the country on F-1 visas. “Initially, TPS was granted to Haitians who came to the U.S. immediately after the earthquake but it was later given to the people of the country a year later,” explained Councilmember Eugene. “The improved benefit was granted after considerably lobbying in Washington. I visited Washington more than a dozen times trying and succeeding in getting the additional benefit.”
An earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale struck Haiti, killing an estimated 250,000 people, injuring more than 100,000 and leaving at least 500,000 homeless. It forced tens of thousands of them to live in tent cities in and around Port au Prince, the capital. The act of nature caused about $10 billion in damage to the country’s roads, bridges, hospitals, schools, commercial firms and churches. The presidential palace was destroyed.
“It certainly left us in a terrible economic and social situation,” said Marguerite Etienne, who lives in Brooklyn. “The decision to extend TPS yet again reinforces in our minds that some people in Washington, including President Barack Obama really cares about what happens to us.”
In a statement announcing the extension, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services explained the extension “allows TPS re-registrants to apply for a new Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Eligible Haitian TPS beneficiaries who re-register during the 60 day period and request a new EAD will receive with an expiration date of January 22, 2016.”