Irish Immigration Center Is Quick to Pitch In

The Irish Immigration Center is partnering with several organizations throughout the city to help Haitian immigrants seeking Temporary Protected Status (TPS) complete applications by a June deadline.

In recent weeks, the Obama administration granted TPS for Haitian immigrants who were in the U.S. prior to the earthquake. The status allows undocumented immigrants to remain in the country for up to 18 months and avoid deportation back to the devastation in Haiti. The program also gives immigrants the ability to work in the U.S.

The Irish Immigration Center will process the applications and is working closely with all relevant agencies, said Sister Lena Deevy, the IIC's executive director.

"We provide pretty intensive one-on-one help. The TPS process is not real straightforward," Deevy said. "People need help to make sure they fill out the forms correctly. You have to have some proof and some documents. We can offer the legal expertise. The process needs professional supervision. The application also has a fee which can be prohibitive, she added. But there is another application process for a waiver of the fee, she said.

The processing has to be completed within six months of the TPS announcement, which was made Jan. 12.

The assistance is offered by a team of immigration attorneys working with the IIC. Already several clinics have been held for the Haitian community, Deevy said, adding that the IIC is hiring an additional Haitian translator to help in the effort.

In the coming weeks, the center will launch a partnership with the Haitian American Health Initiative in Mattapan to provide legal expertise and help in the TPS process at the organization's Mattapan location.

In addition, the IIC is helping those who already had family petitions under way prior to the earthquake to help move those applications along.

The Irish Immigration Center has worked with the Haitian immigrant community since the organization was founded more than 20 years ago.

Of the estimated 80,000 Haitian immigrants in Massachusetts, there are probably about 12,000 who are undocumented, said Deevy, who has been involved with the Haitian community since the 1990s. At that time, she served on the Haitian Solidarity Action Committee in Boston. She also was a member of the Haitian Faith and Justice Group and a board member of Grassroots International.

"Historically, the challenges in Haiti have been largely economic and political," Deevy said. "A lot of the people who fled prior to this were trying to get away from the awful poverty."

"There have also been issues around the deforestation that has taken place over many years, some due to development and destruction from hurricanes. Another contributor to deforestation has been the use of the wood to create charcoal for fuel for heat and cooking. The majority of Haitians do not have access to electricity.

"In the short term, there has been an amazing outpouring of support. In the long-term, aid needs to be given around building the country up," she said. "They need to build up the land, the infrastructure, educational system, security, and health care."