After the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in January, NYLAG acted quickly to establish two projects within the LegalHealth and Immigrant Protection Units aimed at assisting Haitian nationals. These units provide a host of services to Haitian nationals, with an emphasis on assisting them in obtaining Temporary Protected Status (TPS). TPS provides temporary lawful status and work authorization until July 22, 2011 for Haitian nationals who were residing in the United States prior to the earthquake on January 12, 2010.

Thanks to a generous grant from the Robin Hood Foundation, LegalHealth opened four new clinics at New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) hospitals serving
large Haitian populations—Kings County Hospital Center, Queens Hospital Center, Bellevue Hospital Center and Coler-Goldwater (a specialty hospital and nursing facility). “For patients from Haiti who are already facing medical and mental health needs, the added stress of their uncertain immigration status can be overwhelming,” said HHC President Alan D. Aviles. “Our collaboration with LegalHealth enables us to treat both medical and non-medical ailments- the whole patient.”

LegalHealth has partnered with HHC for nearly seven years to provide legal services to patients that involve a range of civil legal matters, from resolving housing problems that affect health conditions, to helping patients with benefits and advance planning such as wills, health care proxies and powers of attorney.

LegalHealth’s new clinics are staffed by bilingual team members who advise and represent clients on immigration matters including Temporary Protected Status. To date, LegalHealth has assisted 62 TPS clients at these clinics. “By being onsite where patients receive essential medical services we are making it as easy as possible for this community to access legal help,” said Randye Retkin, Director of LegalHealth. “There are attorneys and paralegals onsite at each clinic for the six month period that applications can be filed for Temporary Protected Status. Haitian nationals who think they might be eligible should come to this clinic for this free service.”

In addition to providing direct legal services to clients, NYLAG’s Immigrant Protection Unit (IPU) has emerged as a leader in the effort to assist Haitians by conducting successful trainings for other service providers and establishing flourishing pro bono collaborations. The response to NYLAG’s offers of providing TPS training has been considerable. More than 70 attorneys from firms around the city attended a training hosted by Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP. Countless other attorneys received training on TPS through NYLAG’s web training posted on Probono.net. In the last two months, over 50 pro bono attorneys have volunteered at IPU’s TPS clinics.

To date, NYLAG’s Immigrant Protection Unit (IPU) has assisted over 500 Haitian nationals with TPS and other immigration benefits. IPU offers full immigration representation for TPS applicants, including preparation of fee waiver requests and requests for waivers of inadmissibility, as well as petitions for humanitarian parole, requests to expedite relative petitions, applications for adjustment of status, visa extension applications, and orphan petitions.

The story of Mrs. F illustrates the desperate need for assistance and the extent to which legal assistance can truly change the lives of many TPS clients and the lives of their family members. Mrs. F came to NYLAG’s TPS clinic seeking assistance with a TPS application. A pro bono attorney, under the supervision of an IPU staff attorney, assisted Mrs. F with her TPS application. Some time after the attorney had completed and filed Mrs. F’s TPS application, Mrs. F disclosed that her husband has been missing since the earthquake, and her 8 year-old son has been living with neighbors in Haiti. NYLAG immediately contacted Mrs. F and determined that, because of the particular type of visa that she had, her son is immediately eligible for a derivative visa to come to the United States. NYLAG is currently processing the visa, and will contact the U.S. State Department to request that they expedite her son’s application so that he may be reunited with his mother.

City officials have taken notice of IPU’s efforts and have asked for our assistance. NYLAG is the only legal service organization that offers full legal representation for TPS applicants and other immigration matters at the Haitian Earthquake Family Resource Center, a joint effort established by Governor Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg. Currently, NYLAG is conducting clinics at the Resource Center every Wednesday. We have also conducted clinics in the district offices of several City Council Members, including Council Members Mathieu Eugene and Darlene Mealy. Despite IPU’s considerable efforts, more work awaits. IPU has set an ambitious goal of assisting 1,000 Haitian nationals with TPS and other immigration matters and training 500 pro bono attorneys to handle TPS applications.