Temporary protected status for Haitians

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JEB SHARP: No one would describe the earthquake in Haiti as a good thing, but it has provided a rare opportunity for Haitians who are living in the United States illegally. The federal government is allowing undocumented Haitians to apply for temporary protected status. That would allow them to get jobs, go to school and come out of the shadows. The World's Katy Clark met some Haitians in the Boston area who want to do just that.

KATY CLARK: It's a cool, rainy Saturday morning, but the Catholic Charities Office in Brockton, Massachusetts fills fasts with Haitians eager and sometimes scared to apply for temporary protected status. Some of the illegal immigrants here don't have all the paperwork they need to complete the application process. Others don't have the $470.00 fee the government requires to obtain work papers. Volunteer attorney Sheila Corkhill asks this woman if she's managed to scrape that money together.

SHEILA CORKHILL: Did you bring that today? Or would you, there is a possibility of applying for a fee waiver, but a fee waiver just means that they ask for a lot of documentation to show that you're unable to pay.

CLARK: The Haitian woman says she'll have the money in a few days. Catholic Charities is here not to provide money, but to help in other ways. For instance, it's providing legal services free of charge. That's key to Haitians like this woman, who identifies herself only as Sondra. Sondra says one lawyer planned to charge her more than $1,000.00 on top of the government fee to help her apply for temporary protected status. Sondra lost her mother, three brothers and two adopted children in the earthquake. She says she would like to go to school here to become a nursing assistant and send money back to help rebuild Haiti. Another Haitian woman, Estaline, also says she wants to help her homeland, but she's not ready to return there just yet.

INTERPRETER: For now, I don't really see returning to Haiti. I'd rather see things get back to normal. At the present time my children can't go to school, so the focus is in getting life situated here first, then we'll go back.

CLARK: Temporary protected status is for Haitians who were in the United States illegally at the time of the quake. It allows them to work and study here for 18 months. What happens after that is anyone's guess. Sarah Mailander is an immigration attorney.

SARAH MAILANDER: People are definitely worried about what happens after those 18 months. Is the government going to deport them? We're telling them that historically, temporary protected status is renewed. It's not just for the initial period, but rather it's extended for sometimes up to ten years or more.

CLARK: Some say that temporary protected status is too generous. They argue that giving illegal immigrants that status is akin to giving them amnesty. Haitian American Jean-Riguel Ulysses doesn't see it that way. He teaches financial literacy to the underprivileged. Ulysses says Americans have an obligation to Haiti.

JEAN-RIGUEL ULYSSES: We occupied that country before. He have directly link with Haiti. The Haitians have no place to go mostly. Those who are here, they are affected one way or another. So I think looking deep into our heart, this is, in my opinion, the smallest thing to do, is to get them the legal status so they will not be co-dependent on us.

CLARK: More than 35,000 Haitian individuals and families have applied for temporary protected status. That number could go as high as 200,000 before the July deadline. Recently, though, there's been a nationwide slowdown on the number of Haitians seeking temporary protected status. Immigration attorney Sarah Mailander says the most eager group stepped forward immediately. She says other Haitians may be waiting to make sure that the first group gets its work papers before they apply for theirs. For The World this is Katy Clark, Brocton, Massachusetts.