US gives Haitians deportation reprieve
Decision allows stay till early ’13
Until yesterday, Ricardo Joseph and his family were running out of time.
They fled to Massachusetts after the violent earthquake last year in Haiti destroyed their house, their schools, and the car dealership where he worked. They had hoped to start over, but instead their visas expired and they spiraled into poverty, ending up homeless and living in a Brockton motel, fearing deportation.
But yesterday, US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano granted Joseph and thousands of other Haitians a reprieve, allowing them to apply for a special immigration status that will allow them to live and work in the United States through January 2013.
“Wow, that’s wonderful news,’’ Joseph said yesterday upon hearing the news.
After the quake struck in January 2010, Napolitano granted temporary protected status to Haitians who were already in the United States. That group — some here illegally, others with expiring visas — was allowed to live and work here until July. Yesterday, she granted those 48,000 immigrants an 18-month extension.
In a major shift, Napolitano also expanded the pool of Haitians who are eligible to apply for the special status to include the estimated 10,000 Haitians who arrived in the year after the quake.
Federal officials had resisted granting it to those who fled, in part to discourage a life-threatening mass migration by sea, but many landed in the United States on visitors visas, which have since expired, leaving them undocumented. To apply, Haitians must have arrived in the United States before Jan. 12, 2011.
“Providing a temporary refuge for Haitian nationals who are currently in the United States and whose personal safety would be endangered by returning to Haiti is part of this administration’s continuing efforts to support Haiti’s recovery,’’ Napolitano said in a statement.
The announcement comes days after Haiti inaugurated a new president, Michel Martelly, renewing hopes for jump-starting reconstruction in the Caribbean nation. More than a year after the quake, hundreds of thousands of people in Haiti remain homeless and a deadly cholera outbreak has killed more than 4,800, according to a recent United Nations report.
Advocates for immigrants cheered the news yesterday. They had been urging US officials to offer legal status to Haitians who arrived after the quake, moving in with relatives and friends in Boston, Brockton, and other cities and lining up at food pantries.
Massachusetts is home to the third-largest Haitian community in the United States.
“We are all ecstatic,’’ said Marjean A. Perhot, director of refugee and immigration services of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Boston, where English teachers spread the news to their students. “I ran down the hall I was so excited. We are so thrilled, so thankful. Today has made the lives of thousands of Haitians hundreds of times better.’’
Eva A. Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, called it a “crucial humanitarian decision.’’ Carline Desire, executive director of the Association of Haitian Women in Boston, said the extension is a relief for Haitians since the United States recently resumed deportations to that nation.
US Senator John F. Kerry called it “the right thing to do,’’ saying Haitians “should not be forced to return to a ravaged homeland where their basic human needs cannot be met.’’
Some groups worried that the temporary protected status will become permanent, burdening the United States with more newcomers while Americans and legal immigrants are still struggling to find jobs. Temporary protection for Liberians, in one form or another, has been extended so many times that it has lasted 20 years.
“I think it’s a mistake if only because it reinforces the message that being an illegal alien here is OK, that we’re going to let you stay if you’ve got a sympathetic story,’’ said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, which favors tougher controls on immigration. “It’s really just one more in a long line of loopholes and special exceptions that constitute our immigration laws.’’
But Haitians said they have nothing to return to in Haiti, and the money they send home could help their nation rebuild.
In Brockton, Judeline Manigat hailed the news as a lifesaver for her family. Manigat was already here on business, so she qualified for temporary protected status, but her husband and 6-year-old daughter arrived afterward. With her husband unable to work, the couple ended up living in a Quality Inn in Brockton.
“I’m very happy,’’ Manigat said of the extension.
US officials say that later this week they will publish rules and fees for applying for the temporary status; fees typically are a few hundred dollars.
Anyone who has been convicted of a felony or two or more misdemeanors in the United States will be ineligible for temporary protected status, officials said.
Joseph, who shares a room with his wife and two boys at a motel that the state helps pay for, said he used the family’s savings to travel to the United States last year. He obtained a temporary work permit and got a job labeling parts at a car dealership in Watertown and now is searching for a second job in hope of earning enough money to afford an apartment. For months, his family has shared a room in a motel.
Yesterday’s news left him optimistic.
“It is the grace of God because I am alive, my family is alive. I think this is the most important thing,’’ he said. “Since you are alive, you can start over. We believe in work. We believe in progress, and I think by working pretty hard we can have again what we have lost.’’