The U.S. government has granted special immigration status to Haitians now living illegally in the United States, protecting them from deportation for 18 months and allowing them to work. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says the U.S. considers the Temporary Protected Status measure a form of economic assistance for Haiti.
Chef Creole is a local restaurant in Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood. It is here where the local community gathers to forget its problems. Yet, the earthquake devastation in Haiti figures prominently in many people's minds. Vernet Sejour is Chef Creole's manager.
VERNET SEJOUR, RESTAURANT MANAGER: "Right now, it's really a sad moment for me 'cause I lost some family members and everything. I lost two brothers and one sister."
Despite the losses, this tight-knit community is hopeful, especially now that Haitian immigrants in the United States have the opportunity to stay in the U.S. legally under Temporary Protected Status.
Carline is one of about 68,000 Haitian immigrants in Florida expected to apply for TPS. She did not want to give her last name.
"I think it's going to help a lot of people, especially me. I applied today and it's going to benefit a lot of Haitians," she said.
The U.S. government approved the TPS provision shortly after the earthquake struck Haiti last month. It allows an estimated 100,000 to
200,000 Haitians believed to be living in the U.S. illegally on or before the quake hit to remain in this country legally for at least 18 months. Godfried Sain-Fely is also from Haiti.
"A lot of Haitians come here with nothing and they feel bad, they don't know what to do," said Sain-Fely. "A lot of them end up on the streets doing crimes and that's not right. So I really think this is important for me 'cause this is a chance for me to get out here and experience the United States that I was told about."
Catholic Legal Services of Miami is helping Haitian immigrants apply for Temporary Protected Status. So far, it has helped 1,200 applicants. Executive director Randy McGrorty says many immigrants are misinformed about what TPS allows. He says one major misconception is that it allows Haitians in Haiti to join family members already in the U.S.
"There is no family reunification aspect to TPS," he noted. "I get that question over and over again, 'My sister was killed in the earthquake and her children are on the street, I heard I can bring them over. When can I do that?'"
Temporary Protected Status also does not grant residency or citizenship and disqualifies all applicants convicted of two misdemeanors or a felony. But it does allow about 30,000 Haitians who had faced deportation to remain in the United States.