During the entire month of March, Miami Law's Health & Elder Law Clinic will be hosting law student groups from around the country to assist with the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) efforts that began several weeks ago when the Clinic conducted a day-long TPS application drive at Jackson Memorial Hospital. TPS allows Haitians residing in the U.S. prior to the earthquake to work and remain in the country legally. Advocates anticipate much of the funds earned from their legal employment will be sent back to their families in Haiti to aid in the recovery from the earthquake.
Law student groups, each containing 10-15 students, from Stanford University (March 22-26), University of San Francisco and University of Memphis (March 8-12), New England School of Law (March 1-5), and University of Miami School of Law (March 15-19) will spend their spring break immersed in real-world legal advocacy on behalf of the Haitians who are filing for TPS.
"As soon as word got out that we were working on Haitian TPS, law schools from around the country started calling to volunteer over spring break. It was very inspiring," said Melissa Swain, supervising Health & Elder Law Clinic staff attorney who has coordinated much of the spring break programming.
The students will spend five full days shepherding each application from the initial intake interview, to completing the application with supporting evidence, and finally sending completed applications to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Each day of the week will consist of a specific set of activities, and time is of the essence as the end goal is to have all the applications shipped out by the end of the week.
Upon arrival on Mondays, the visiting students will receive a detailed primer by trained attorneys and students at the Health & Elder Law Clinic on relevant immigration law, privacy concerns, and the logistics of the operation. The students will conduct an intake event on Tuesday which consists of client interviews and processing of applications. The remaining days are reserved for follow-up to gather required documents, photographs and finalization of applications.
The students will spend time calling immigration to confirm the client's status, verifying criminal records when possible, obtaining proof of Haitian nationality and documents to prove they were in the U.S. before the earthquake. As the week comes to an end, time is dedicated to the nuts and bolts of a large, paperwork intensive process that includes attorney review of completed applications, photocopying all applications, and sending clients a receipt letter that their file has been sent to immigration for processing.
"This is an incredible opportunity and has been a rewarding experience," said second-year law student Frederick Hawkins. "As law students and members of the Health & Elder Law Clinic we are in a unique position to help Haitians exercise their legal rights to TPS."
The project was the brainchild of JoNel Newman, Clinical Director of the Health & Elder Law Clinic, who wanted to leverage the energy and commitment of its students and staff to serving indigent and immigrant communities.
"I wanted to find a way to help, and this was it," said Newman. Noting that although this project is unlike sending food or water, or even being on the ground, "The Haitian TPS Project provides a valuable service because it enables those who are here the opportunity to work and send money back to Haiti."
For more information about TPS for Haitian immigrants, visit www.uscis.gov.