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UMTV: Legal Clinic for Haitians

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Orlando has one of the largest populations of Haitian expatriates in the nation. When a January 2010 earthquake devastated their home country, tremors of despair shook the Florida community. Now the U.S is allowing Haitians to stay in this country longer and as Kim Riemland reports, a faith group is helping make it happen.


(Locator: Orlando, Florida)

Attorney: "What's in here?"

Ask any immigrant and he'll tell you&ellipsis;papers are important.

Attorney: "This is immigration, this is immigration, this is immigration&ellipsis;"

Client: "Too much!"

After the January earthquake in Haiti, papers became even more important.

Attorney: "Oh, so they sent you your work authorization. Very good."

Haitians living in the U.S. when the earthquake hit can now apply for Temporary Protected Status. This United Methodist clinic in Orlando is helping with the process. Mayuris Pimentel is an attorney with Justice for Our Neighbors.

Mayris Pimentel, JFON attorney: "It gives people the opportunity to come out of the shadows and have permission to work and so be able to go out for better jobs."

Justice for Our Neighbors-or JFON-offers free legal services and provides hospitality and assistance to those in need.

Client Franz Petit-Frere has been in the U.S. for ten years. He fled Haiti when his life was threatened by members of an opposing political party. A family member was killed during his escape.

Franz Petit-Frere, Haitian immigrant: "It was really terrible."

He believes he will be killed if he returns, but the U.S. denied his application for political asylum.

Immigration attorneys' fees can run into the thousands, but many in this Haitian community live at or below the poverty level.

The Reverend Thomas Toussaint says the model is a salvation for many immigrants.

Rev. Thomas Toussaint, Berea Haitian Mission United Methodist Church: "They say, 'I could not make it without JFON! Thanks God!"

TPS won't allow clients like Franz to bring his relatives to the U.S. For a decade, he's had to experience his 7 children growing up through photographs and phone calls.

Franz Petit-Frere, Haitian immigrant: "They say, 'I love you." You see it? It says 'I love you!'"

But Franz will be able to work legally as long as he has temporary status&ellipsis;paying taxes and sending money back home to a family who he hopes he'll hold in his arms again someday.

Franz Petit-Frere, Haitian immigrant: "Oh, very missing! I love us! When me think about us, I'm cry. I cry, man."


Originally, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security put a July 2010 deadline on applying for TPS, but extended that deadline to January 18, 2011. For more information on Justice for Our Neighbors, visit the website.

Related article: Clinic gives Haitians legal resource after quake

Posted: July 26, 2010

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