Kevin Moise never let himself browse college catalogs.
Despite wanting to become a pediatrician, the high school senior grew used to his status as an illegal resident preventing him from doing things like getting a job, a license or any financial aid for college.
Then in the wake of the Jan. 12 earthquake that devastated his native Haiti, that nation's citizens were granted temporary protected status, allowing those who resided in the United States before the quake to remain here legally for the next 18 months and gain working permits.
Saturday, Moise, 17, now of Central Islip, was among dozens of people who attended a clinic where attorneys and volunteers helped local Haitians apply for the special status.
"It was like being chained to the wall," said Moise, who has lived in the United States since he was 7. "I would get so discouraged and I was so afraid. This has opened so many doors for me."
His mother, Marie-Ange Valmont, a U.S. citizen, said the status has brought hope to both their lives. A medical assistant who solely supports Moise and her 12-year-old twin daughters, Valmont hopes her son will one day graduate from medical school. "I have faith and confidence in him," she said.
Inside the Long Island Portuguese American Center in Brentwood, more than 40 people lined up to fill out immigration applications. Volunteers walked attendees through the process of applying as attorneys counseled people with special cases.
Jaime Marcos, an attorney at the clinic, said the process can take several months. To apply, people must submit $470 in fees, two passport photos, proof of their nationality, and proof they were in the United States before Jan. 12.
The office of Assemb. Philip Ramos (D-Central Islip) and Haitians United for Change, a local nonprofit, organized the event.
Ketile Chrispin, president of Haitians United, and Ramos said they hope Haitians living all over New York will take advantage of the opportunity. "This is about dignity and being able to help families that are in need," Chrispin said.
Some who attended have been in the United States for decades while others, like Violy Novembre, came here for a short visit and are now unable to return to Haiti.
Novembre, 36, who now lives in Brentwood, came to the United States on Dec. 25, 2009. He worked in Port-au-Prince as an auditor supporting his wife, and their two children, ages 6 and 18 months. The quake destroyed their home and now his family sleeps in the streets waiting for help.
"They struggle to live and I am so far away," he said in Creole. He hopes the status will allow him to support his family and begin the process of bringing them to the United States.
Some, however, are wary of the program and see it as a trap to deport undocumented residents, attendees said.
Marcus Succès, 33, a paralegal from Rahway, N.J., who volunteered at the event, tried to ease those fears. "This is a chance to come out of the shadows."
>> VIDEOS: Latest videos from Haiti and on LI
HOW TO HELP
* You can help immediately by texting "HAITI" to "90999" and a donation of $10 will be charged to your cell phone bill and given automatically to the Red Cross to help with relief efforts.
* Wyclef Jean, a rapper and hip-hop artist from Haiti, urged people to text "Yele" to 501501 to donate $5 toward earthquake relief. Yéle Haiti is a grassroots movement inspiring change in Haiti through programs in education, sports, the arts and environment, according to its Web site.
* The State Department Operations Center has set up the following number for Americans seeking information about family members in Haiti: 1-888-407-4747. The Red Cross has also set up a Web site to help family members find and contact relatives.
The FBI warned Internet users to be wary of e-mail messages seeking donations in the aftermath of the quake. People who want to send money or assistance should contribute to known organizations and should be careful not to respond to unsolicited e-mails, officials said.
Other Web sites accepting donations include: