On a recent weekend, the city of Miami Gardens provided an opportunity for Haitians living in America to apply for a temporary respite from deportation.

But only as many as 40 people showed up at city hall for help with Temporary Protected Status at the March 6 event.

Hosted by the city, coordinated by the Haitian American Lawyers Association and buffeted by the pro bono work of several law students from the University of Florida, the event was the third of its kind in the Miami area since President Obama granted TPS for Haitian national residents following Haiti’s devastating Jan. 12 earthquake. The earthquake claimed the lives of more than 200,000 people.
Haitian-American attorney Regine Monestine, one of the event’s planners, said the Miami Gardens location may have been a factor in the
low turnout.  The appellate attorney who also serves as the city attorney for Florida City said that the two TPS application drives in the city of North Miami were well attended. In addition to having a Haitian-American mayor, North Miami also has a large Haitian population.

“I’m very disappointed,” Monestime said. “We’re disappointed that people did not avail themselves of the opportunity. I’m not sure why we had such a low turnout. I think the location may have been a problem. I’ve given people my cell phone number. I’ve been getting calls all day. I had to go pick up a gentleman, actually.”

The exact number of Haitian immigrants living in the city of Miami Gardens is unknown. In an interview that appeared in the Dec. 26 edition of the South Florida Times, Miami Gardens Councilman Andre Williams said, “We have about 3,400 registered Haitian-American voters and the actual number of Haitian-American residents is closer to 5,000 or so.” 

Williams sponsored a resolution passed by the Miami Gardens City Council in 2008 that encouraged the Bush administration to grant TPS to Haitian immigrants living in the United States. 

TPS may be granted when any of the following conditions are met: There is ongoing armed conflict posing a serious threat to
personal safety; it is requested by a foreign state that temporarily cannot handle the return of nationals due to environmental disaster; or when extraordinary and temporary conditions in a foreign state exist that prevent immigrants from returning.

Astelal Francklil attended the event with a cousin, who came along for moral support. Francklil is a 56-year old, unemployed hotel custodian who hopes that obtaining TPS will improve his employment status.

“I’m very happy because I have no job right now, but if I have TPS I will be able to find a job,” said Francklil, who has lived in the United States since 1996.

Francklil said he has several family members who live in Haiti, some of whom have been displaced by the earthquake.

Sabrina Salomon, 44, is a Haitian-American lawyer whose brother and other relatives survived the earthquake in Haiti. Salomon said she assisted people with their TPS applications on March 6.

Despite the low turnout, Salomon said, she is grateful to the city of Miami Gardens for hosting the event.

“That’s an awesome initiative, and we’re grateful that they’re doing it,” she said.

Sherley Jean, 23, is a Haitian-American first-year University of Florida law student from Orlando whose ability to speak Creole came in handy.

“I’m here to help the people. [Speaking Creole] was an asset actually, I helped translate for them,” she said.

Jean was joined by seven other University of Florida law students, among them Lisa Thelwell, a first-year law student from Miami.

Thelwell, 22, said, “I’m here today to help any of the Haitian people to get TPS, so that they can have an opportunity to stay in the U.S. instead of being forced to return to Haiti, which is a country in despair right now.”