Haitian New Yorkers Struggle Against a New Disaster

NYLAG presented an award of appreciation to New York City Councilmember Dr. Mathieu Eugene for his advocacy on behalf of the Haitian immigrant community.

On January 12, 2010, an earthquake of unprecedented proportions devastated Haiti. For thousands of Haitian nationals living in the United States this disaster meant not only an inability to return home but also utter helplessness here in America. Fortunately the Department of Homeland Security’s Secretary Janet Napolitano moved quickly and days later designated Haitians as eligible for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which allows persons to not only remain in the United States for designated periods but also to obtain work authorization documentation.

Immediately, NYLAG’s Immigrant Protection Unit (IPU) established the Haitian TPS Project to assist Haitian nationals in receiving TPS. NYLAG staff, headed by attorneys Jin Sun Park, Meeta Patel, and Maryanne Tharapel have since then helped hundreds of individuals to register – and then re-register for TPS, as the extraordinary effects of the earthquake continued to prevent Haitians from returning to their home country.

The latest re-registration period for TPS applications was set to end on November 30, 2012, just a matter of weeks after Superstorm Sandy ravaged the New York region, knocking out power, closing offices and displacing both clients eligible for re-registration, and the attorneys who serve them.

A dedicated team of City and State leaders, along with a concerted effort from NYLAG’s IPU, began a campaign to further extend the deadline for Haitians seeking renewal of TPS beyond November. The effort was led by Brooklyn City Councilmember Matheiu Eugene, the first Haitian to be elected to the New York City Council.

“New York City, which is home to many Haitians, was devastated by Hurricane Sandy,” said Eugene at the time. “As a result, legal service providers, elected officials, and city agencies throughout the region have been deeply affected and have been unable to provide the necessary and vital services for TPS renewals as anticipated.”

On December 27, 2012, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced an extension for re-registration given the impact Hurricane Sandy has had on regions where Haitians reside, in particular New York City. The re-registration period was extended through January 29, 2013, for individuals who had been severely affected by not one, but two, natural disasters.

The NYLAG IPU team, themselves displaced by the storm and working out of donated office space, joined forces with Councilmember Eugene and others to address Haitian TPS re-registration needs. By the end of January 2013, NYLAG IPU staff had held five large-scale clinics that helped over 300 Haitian nationals determine their eligibility for TPS and either apply or re-register their past applications.