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Li Haitians start applying for protected status

Haitians received the long-awaited go-ahead from federal authorities Thursday to begin applying to live and work legally in the United States for the next 18 months, setting off a flurry of action at agencies and lawyers' offices across the region.

Immigration lawyer Maggie Rodriguez in Malverne fielded more than 20 calls by yesterday afternoon, setting up appointments to fill out applications in the evening.

"I've been getting 50 to 60 calls a day, people from all over," Rodriguez said. "I have a lot of clients that are very happy about TPS being granted to Haitians because they've wanted it for a long time and they've been qualified. Unfortunately, it took such a huge tragedy like this to make it happen."

At Catholic Charities in Amityville, interested Haitians began walking in on Monday, following last Friday's announcement the federal government would grant Haiti Temporary Protected Status. "We've been getting a lot of calls and have started some cases," said Carmen Maquilon, director of Immigrant Services.

At the Solages & Solages law firm in Mineola, run by Phil and Carrié Solages, the calls have been steady all week - about 30 a day.

Temporary Protected Status means those here illegally or whose visas have expired cannot be deported and can get work permits. The U.S. grants TPS to immigrants from countries where civil wars or natural disasters make it dangerous for them to return. The Haitian TPS is for 18 months but can be extended, which has been done with most other countries granted the status.

Haitians will have until July 20 to submit applications via mail and to pay fees - unless they qualify for a waiver. Applicants must have been living in the United States on or before Jan. 12, the day of the massive quake. They can't have a felony or two misdemeanor convictions while here.

Largely a benefit for undocumented citizens, government officials estimate up to 200,000 Haitians could be eligible, including 30,000 facing final deportation orders.

Carmelia Taylor, an immigration lawyer in Farmingdale, said she has three former clients who were facing deportation who now have the opportunity to remain. "I couldn't help them before," she said. "Finally this came out and they are just ecstatic."Haitians and immigrant advocates say TPS will allow expatriates to work at higher paying jobs and send money to Haiti, crucial more than ever with rebuilding.

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