Left to right: Georges Francis, Esq., managing attorney for Catholic Legal Annual Services, Archdiocese of Miami Inc.; Soeurette Michel, Esq., CEO of Michel Law Firm LLC; Patricia Elizee, Esq., managing partner of Elizee Law Firm, P.A.; Adonia Simpson, Esq., director of the Family Defense Program at Americans for Immigrant Justice; City of North Lauderdale Commissioner Samson Borgelin; and U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings participated on a panel during a TPS townhall meeting.
By JAVON ANTHONY LLOYD
Special to South Florida Times
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Valuable information and available resources were just some of the highlights from a recent meeting aimed at helping educate many members of South Florida’s Haitian community.
More than 50 individuals gathered for a town hall – hosted by U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings – to learn more about the federal government’s Temporary Protected Status program for Haitians and its impact on those currently living in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
The event, which took place at the African- American Research Library and Cultural Center in Fort Lauderdale, also featured a panel made up of attorneys and community stakeholders who discussed topics related to immigration, citizenship, legal advice and more.
“There has been a lot of confusion about some of our nation’s immigration policies, not only among Haitians, but in other communities as well,” said Congressman Hastings. “Not having accurate knowledge can lead to misinformation, and we need to ensure that we are educating individuals whose lives could be affected by current and future legislation.”
Temporary Protected Status, also known as TPS, is granted to eligible nationals of designated countries who are temporarily unable to return to their native country due to an on- going-armed conflict, environmental disaster or other unsafe conditions. There are 10 countries currently designated for TPS, including El Salvador, Honduras, Yemen and Haiti.
In May, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that it was extending the TPS designation for Haiti for an additional six months, effective July 23, 2017, through Jan. 22, 2018, and plans to re-evaluate the conditions and situation 60 days before the expiration date. If the TPS designation is not extended after the six-month extension, thousands will be forced to return to Haiti.
Marleine Bastien, who serves as the executive director of FANM Inc., a Miami-based non-profit that assists Haitian individuals through public advocacy, transitional support services and family empowerment, says that not having a permanent solution for those on TPS is causing some to worry about what the future may bring.
“It is extremely important that Haitians on TPS, who have been living in South Florida for many years and have deep roots in our communities, realize that they, too, have a very important role to play,” said Bastien. “Now is the time for us to become even more organized so that we can work together to express our concerns about this critical issue.”
The United States has the largest Haitian migrant population in the world, and according to the Migration Policy Institute, South Florida is home to more than 210,000 Haitian immigrants, making up approximately 3.6 percent of the nation’s total population. More than 58,000 Haitian immigrants already in the United States prior to the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti have been granted TPS by the federal government.
“Anyone who feels that they may be affected by the uncertainties of TPS should contact a certified immigration attorney,” said Adonia Simpson, Esq., a panelist at the event who serves as the director of the Family Defense Program at Americans for Immigrant Justice. “There are a lot of scams out there, so being informed and having a plan is the best way to prepare yourself and your family for any drastic changes that may come about.”
TPS, who have been living in South Florida for many years and have deep roots in our communities, realize that they, too, have a very important role to play,” said Bastien. “Now is the time for us to become even more organized so that we can work together to express our concerns about this critical issue.”