Large-scale Legal Clinics Bring Relief to Hundreds of Haitians Living in New York
Four years after the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, the country is still suffering from a lack of infrastructure and severely unsafe conditions. In March and April, NYLAG conducted a series of free legal clinics hosted by New York City Councilmember Mathieu Eugene that enabled hundreds of Haitian nationals to reregister for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and in the process pursue a range of other immigration relief options. The clinics were organized in response to the recent redesignation of Haiti for TPS by the US government. Haitians who hold TPS are permitted to remain and work legally in the United States rather than return to their devastated home country.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the TPS extension in early March, with a reenrollment window of just 60 days. It was critical to reach the large population of Haitians, many living in the Councilmember’s Brooklyn district, who were eligible to reregister–and who would be at risk of deportation if they did not. NYLAG and the Councilmember’s staff mobilized quickly, following the model for executing large-scale clinics that had been developed by staff attorney Maryann Tharappel in the fall of 2012, when DHS first redesignated Haiti.
“By this time, we were a well-oiled machine. My staff did the community organizing, getting the word out to educate the community about why reregistering was so important – and how limited was the period for doing so,” said Councilmember Eugene. “The clinics themselves were masterpieces of efficiency, and of course the results speak for themselves. I cannot say enough about our partnership with NYLAG. Together we have helped hundreds of families to remain safe, and send much-needed aid home as Haiti continues the long road to recovery.”
In little more than five weeks, NYLAG was able to advise 525 Haitian immigrants at nine clinics, seven held at the Councilmember’s offices and two at NYLAG. Councilmember Eugene’s staff, trained by NYLAG attorneys, did much more than just schedule appointments, which was daunting enough (they handled up to 75 calls a day). They also took the time to explain the intake process, gaining the trust of sometimes fearful immigrants, and identifying individual issues in advance of the clinics so that legal staff could address them more effectively. Meanwhile, NYLAG reached out to New York City’s legal community and trained pro bono attorneys rapidly via webinar, an efficient and cost-effective way to leverage volunteer resources in an abbreviated timeframe.
All clients were screened for TPS reregistration, but also for a myriad of other possible avenues for immigration relief, such as eligibility for fee waivers, special status designation, or permanent residency. Approximately half of all cases were picked by NYLAG attorneys for extended services to explore such additional relief options. The others were assisted with all the preparation and paperwork necessary to file for TPS reregistration within the DHS deadline.
On May 2, the last day of the reregistration period, DHS announced that it had extended the deadline for another two months. According to Irina Matiychenko, NYLAG’s Director of Immigrant Protection, the extension might not have been necessary if other areas of the country had the advantage of a proven process like NYLAG’s.
“This was truly a team effort undertaken in record time to answer an urgent community need. Thanks to the entire IPU staff, led by our tireless and resourceful Maryann and supported by the core TPS team of Mirjam Grunenfelder, Deborah Chen, Emlyne Chery, and Natalia Lucak, we were able to handle a large volume of clients, but still give every person individual attention. Councilmember Eugene and his amazing staff made the process as comfortable and stress-free as possible for clients and attorneys alike. And, of course, we could never have assisted so many people so effectively were it not for our pro bono partners.”