Saturday, March 27, 2010

Day Four & Five - Final Stages

When the clock struck 6 on Friday afternoon, we had submitted to the United States Citizen and Immigration Services 19 applications for Temporary Protected Status, the overwhelming majority of which included requests for the U.S.C.I.S to waive the nearly $470 in application fees. All 19 entailed applications for employment authorization, so if the TPS is granted the applicants can legally reside and work in the United States.

For an additional 6 files that were complex and either would not be eligible for TPS or at least would not be eligible at this point, the supervising attorneys from the University of Miami encouraged us to produce memos that lay out, at least preliminarily, the legal and factual complexities of those cases, so that the U.M. Health and Elder Law Clinic can expeditiously move those files forward.

In just five days, we learned a lot about immigration law, but obviously only a fraction of what there is to learn. We also learned a great deal about the functioning of the administrative state. Those of us who had just completed Admin Law found the experience particularly valuable in providing a practical context within which we could apply and examine the concepts we had learned. The experience also demonstrated some of the limitations of the theoretical and conceptual discussions that inform the study of Administrative Law.

We also had a great clinical education experience. We spent two mornings doing case rounds with the supervising attorneys from the University of Miami. They were astute attorneys, who helped us navigate and manage through all the gray areas, and perfectionists who had us redo and redo again until the applications were perfect. They were also inspiring. Their genuine commitment to our disadvantaged clients, their passion for the work, and their energy and enthusiasm were inspiring and contagious.

And of course, we were touched by so many of the stories that we heard. One, in particular, might be worth highlighting. One applicant that came to us was actually not eligible for TPS. He came to the U.S. after the date of the Earthquake. A retired firefighter who was volunteering in the rescue effort in Haiti found a boy and his father. The boy had leukemia and would almost certainly die very soon without hospital care. With the firefighter’s help and the help of a local church, the boy was brought, by helicopter, to Miami and granted access on humanitarian grounds. His father was later allowed to enter as well. The young man is permitted to stay in the U.S. to receive medical care for about another year, but his father only has permission to stay for another two months. The father and son are not eligible for TPS as they arrived in the U.S. after the Earthquake, but our group has hopefully laid some groundwork for the U.M. clinic to secure more permanent status for him. And, given what we know of some of the students in the clinic and the attorneys, we are absolutely certain that the folks at U.M. won’t let this go until they are successful.

As for me, the trip culminated as it began, in a very personal way. We spent two days getting the word out about TPS in general and, in particular, the intake sessions that we were doing that week. Given the large concentration of Haitians in North Miami, we spent both days in the area, including at the elementary school and high school I attended, the grocery stores and shops I patronized growing up, and on streets just blocks from my old home. We decided to visit my old high school (which was also the high school at which I taught) in the late afternoon as that was the time that folks who attend evening English and GED classes would be there. This meant that most of my former teachers and colleagues weren’t around when we got there. I did however bump into one teacher who is Haitian and who had gone back to Haiti for a few years to advise the government there. He said that he would return to Haiti the first chance he gets, but this time contribute to bettering the country by starting in the countryside rather than in the capital, helping to educate the populace there. As we were departing he said, “I’m so proud. We trained you to go save the world…and now you are.”

I also met a client as she was walking between buildings at Jackson Memorial Hospital. The U.M. Health and Elder Law Clinic has a regular presence at Jackson, the County’s hospital that provides healthcare to the indigent. Fortunately, it was few and far between, but as a young person I did spend time in the waiting rooms at Jackson. My client, however, is not so lucky. Her 8 year old son has sickle cell and down-syndrome and so they are there frequently. Her case was sufficiently detailed that I ended up spending two days with her. In the last several minutes of the second day, before we wrapped up, in her broken English, she said “I pray that God saves your life.” Amen.

The day after I returned from Miami, she called me, just to check in.

Ed. note: Sean Hassan is a second-year law student at Stanford Law School.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Day Three: A Tough Case

The more I learn about immigration law, the more I discover its deficiencies. TPS is a great opportunity for Haitians to gain official immigration status in the U.S., but in some ways it disfavors the most needy. For the past two days, Alex and I worked with a father and son who came to the intake session at Jackson on Tuesday. Their story was tragic but only incidental to the earthquake. In the aftermath of the earthquake, aid workers discovered the boy on the street, suffering acutely from leukemia. He was near death and in need of immediate medical attention so the aid workers airlifted him to Miami where doctors convinced immigration officials to admit him for medical treatment. His father followed a few days later. Fast forward one month: the son is lively and active again, jabbering at me three different languages (including Spanish, which he picked up since coming to Miami). He has so much energy that it’s difficult to tell he is still sick.

But there are a few tell-tale signs.

He claims to be seventeen years old but looks only about ten or eleven, making me wonder if poor health and malnourishment has taken a toll on his development. He wears multiple plastic hospital bracelets, sliding loosely around his thin wrist like bangles. His life still revolves around hospitals—weekly blood work and tests, frequent overnight stays, constant medication.

The father and son have received an outpouring of generosity from a local church. One parishioner has taken charge of them, providing meals and transportation to and from the hospital and helping them navigate a new and unfamiliar country. USCIS has been much more stingy, granting the pair only a 90-day stay that expires in May. Looking for relief, they wandered into our intake session after running into a student with a TPS flier. Without any documents or few common language skills among us, the interview was very difficult. My heart sank when we finally determined that they came to the U.S. after the earthquake, making them ineligible for TPS. It seemed completely unfair to turn them away based only on an arbitrary entry date, especially when the son’s life depended on continued medical care.

Melissa and JoNel suggested we pursue humanitarian parole, permission to stay in the U.S. due to urgent emergency circumstances granted at the discretion of USCIS. After researching humanitarian parole further, Alex and I met again today with the father, son, (with a translator this time) and the parishioner at Chef Nicole’s. They greeted us like old friends, the son giving me a kiss on each cheek. When we explained the humanitarian parole process, they seemed overjoyed. Before coming into the intake session, they had no idea there was any other option except to leave in May and hope for the best. The son was ecstatic that he might be able to go to school. We put them in touch with the U Miami Clinic which would help them with the application in the upcoming weeks.

But humanitarian parole is not simple. Unlike for TPS, no fee waivers are permitted. Applicants must marshal evidence about their emergency situation—medical documents, doctor’s notes,—demonstrate that traditional non-immigrant visas would be difficult to obtain, and prove that they will be financially supported while in the US. USCIS grants parole on a completely discretionary basis with a response time of three or four months (TPS takes about two months). Parolees usually receive a parole period of less than a year, which can be extended—for another filing fee. And if granted parole, the father and son will still have to file an additional form to apply for work authorization. Although it was good to have the option, humanitarian parole presented a number of hurdles. The process made me long for the comparable speed and simplicity of TPS.

In light of the barriers inherent in many immigration procedures, the father and son’s story impressed upon me the importance of advocacy, and not just from legal actors. Doctors, churchgoers, and now attorneys and law students went beyond the scope of their stated duties and took an interest in their case. And because of that, hopefully this story will have a happy ending.

Ed. note: Jennifer Holmes is a first year student at Stanford Law School.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Day Two: All Hands on Deck

"Men anpil chay pa lou," many hands make light work.

This Haitian proverb, printed on the front of the t-shirts we wear during outreach and intake, captures the nature of our work today. With one group starting the day doing intake at Jackson Memorial Hospital and another making house calls to follow up on applications in progress, there were a variety of tasks and places we needed to be. By midday, the line of Haitians seeking assistance on the TPS application stretched outside the door of Chef Nicole, a Haitian restaurant that provides us with a place to do intake in the heart of Little Haiti. With our group split across house calls, intake at Jackson Memorial Hospital, and Chef Nicole, the clinical staff called in students from the University of Miami for extra support.

So many people, such a great need, and with the support of everyone--the work got done.

During both the intake and outreach work today, the need for more information and assistance to be provided on the fee waiver for the $470 application became readily apparent. One client, currently living with his cousin, has been out of work for six months. His family supports him as they can, which amounts to free housing and an income of about $100 a month. Even with the little he has, he sends what he can to his two children in Haiti. Our assistance in applying for a fee waiver makes it possible for him to apply at all for this relief. Likewise, during outreach, one person said, "Yes, I need TPS, but it is too expensive." Fortunately, he expressed his concern and we were able to reassure him that if he qualified, we could apply for a fee waiver for him.

While we were grateful to be of assistance today, we continue to be struck by the unmet needs in the community. We were asked multiple times during outreach whether we had a way of helping those that came after the earthquake. Unfortunately, for most of these people, the answer is no. Likewise, we felt at a loss when one woman approached us and asked whether we could help her get her children to the US. She successfully applied and received TPS, but her children are still in Haiti. We'll be consulting with the lawyers about her situation tomorrow and getting back to her, but again, we fear the answer is no.

Ed. note: Carolyn Slauson-Ali is a second year law student at Stanford Law School.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Day One: Training and Community Outreach in Little Haiti

Today was the first working day of what promises to be an incredible week in Miami, helping Haitians to apply for Temporary Protected Status.  The day began at nine in the morning at University of Miami's beautiful campus, where we met the attorneys and clinic students that will lead this week's effort to help Haitian apply for TPS.  Having spent the hours in the sun on Key Biscayne the day before, and some of us having come straight from red-eye flights, we were appreciative of the coffee and bagels that UM so kindly provided.  Our training consisted of a few hours learning about the TPS application forms and a lesson on legal ethics.  At one point in the session, we were asked to pair up with a UM student and get to know them so that we could introduce them to the group.  The purpose of the exercise, we later found, was to show us what it is like to have someone else speak for you.  The idea was to show us what it will be like for the Haitians to have someone else speak for them on such an important application form. 

After the training, we ventured over to Little Haiti to eat lunch at a place called Chef Nicole.  We enjoyed a phenomenal Creole meal and then commenced work spreading word of the TPS clinics.  UM had provided us with flyers listing the times and dates of the clinics and all the documentation that would be needed.  We basically set off in groups and told everyone we could about the effort and provided them with fliers so that they could share the news with their friends and family.  Virtually everyone that we encountered accepted our flyers and information open-mindedly and considerately, but a few people we met today will last in our memories forever.

Rachel, for instance, met an elderly and disabled homeless woman and asked her if she was aware of UM's TPS clinic.  The woman explained to Rachel that she was a U.S. citizen already, but went on to share the difficulties that she faced on a day-to-day basis.  She just had a stroke and consequently lost her vision in one eye.  She needed to go to the doctor but couldn't afford to.  Worse yet, she was afraid to go to sleep at night for fear of her few possessions being stolen and for fear of waking up without vision in her good eye.  The woman had lost a great number of her loves ones in the earthquake and she had no one to turn to for comfort.  Clearly the effects of the earthquake extend beyond what can be helped by the TPS clinic, but at least we are doing something.

Rachel also had an interesting experience with James.  They were passing a community center and stopped to tell a woman about the TPS clinic  The woman explained  that the president of the center was speaking that day, making a special appearance, and invited them inside to hear him talk.  Rachel and James went inside and were quickly invited to come up front and to tell the group about the TPS clinic.  The audience received the information warmly and promised to tell their friends and family about the it.  Like most of our group, Rachel and James realized that triggering community chatter about the clinic would be key to its success.

Others of us had more casually amazing moments.  For instance, I ventured into a school at one point told a school administrator about the TPS clinic.  I asked if I could leave a few flyers for the parents and she gladly agreed to spread around the word, and the flyers.  When I turned to leave, she said, "You all are doing a great thing; God will bless you. Receiving such praise from a woman who devotes her life to supporting her community was one of the most humbling highlights of my day.

There were also more challenging moments.  For instance, Gab encountered a gathering of men playing dominos and seized on the opportunity to get the word out about the TPS clinic.  His efforts were virtually ignored by the group, but Gab continued to feed them information.  Evidently Gab's persistence worked because the entire group ended up accepting fliers and telling Gab that they would inform their friends.

One of the most vivid memories in my mind from the day was walking past a group of young women in the midst of their being question by a few police officers.  I initially passed by the women, but one of the officers asked, "Hey, what are you advocating? When I told him, he said, "And why did you pass these girls up?" I felt slightly embarrassed, but I had just assumed that I should not interfere.  I gave the women flyers and told them about the clinic.  They received the information with more genuine interest than most people I had spoken with and the police officer asked for additional flyers to spread around.

Throughout the day, each of us realized that TPS is not as widely known among the Haitian community as we originally believed.  However, at the end of the day a man actually sought us out to seek help with a TPS application.  It was immeasurably rewarding to see that at least one man, in one community, will get a chance to apply for TPS as a result of our efforts.  I can only hope that the rest of the week will affirm that one group of students truly can change lives.

Ed. note: Katie Plichta is a first year law student at Stanford Law School.

Monday, March 15, 2010

First Day

This year I'm participating in the clinic hosted at the University of Miami School of Law with the Health & Elder Law Clinic (HELC). This is the third week in the marathon of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) clinics they have been running.

Today our group trained on the background situation (why TPS? what is it? what is the urgent situation here in Miami that necessitates the clinics?), how to fill out TPS forms, and how to interview clients who are part of vulnerable populations.

After that, we chowed down on some delicious Haitian food at Chef Nicole. Yum! They have been gracious enough to let us use their restaurant as an intake site in the Little Haiti community (go local! support their business!).

At the end of the day, we split up into three groups -- the Haitian Creole speakers assisted HELC with interpreting phone messages and returning calls. The rest of us canvassed Little Haiti to get the word out about our TPS clinics tomorrow and Wednesday. I'm excited!

For those of you who don't know, there are a TON of fly-by-night operations set up in Little Haiti claiming they will get folks TPS, but will then charge them exorbitant fees and will not offer the option of fee waivers. HELC is not only representing client, but they are counseling on fee waivers, and following-up on the cases once they are sent to immigration.

More tomorrow!!


Ed. note: Evian White is a third year law student at the University of Miami.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Final Push

19 applications for TPS went out today as a result of many hours of hard work. We woke up this morning to the realization that we had to somehow fit all of the information that we had collected into all the tiny boxes on every form. As we checked and second checked the forms, we quickly realized sometimes we did not have enough and sometimes the information that we did have was incorrect.

So began the race to find our clients in order to fill in the blanks. Perhaps the most notable performance was that of Timothy McCauley. Armed with nothing but a name and a photograph, he tracked down in a single afternoon a man whose contact information we had misplaced. His tenacity was evident when he sojourned to little Haiti during torrential downpour in order to find our missing client.

The moment we placed the Fedex envelopes into the mailbox was one of great achievement. All the minor inconveniences and paper-cuts melted from our minds, as we realized that we had a positive impact on so many lives. We feel so satisfied and so glad that we came on this trip. The organizers, Fred, Matt, and Allison did an excellent job and were always willing to help. The attorneys, Olga, Jonelle, and Melissa, helped us to answer complex questions about immigration and taught us as much as they could in such a short time.

We learned so much! We learned about temporary protected status, filing papers with the government, and how to communicate with clients in an appropriate manner. We learned not to give up when faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. We also learned how smashed plantains, fried pork, and fried goat taste (great). We learned some Haitian Creole words: griot means fried pork, gratis means free, and meycy means thank you. We learned that although the world can leave ones life in shambles, the human spirit is resilient, willing to start anew. We are all so thankful to have gone on this trip.

Ed. note: Atina Rizk is a first-year law student at the University of Memphis.

How Quickly Time Passes...

It has been amazing how time has gone by so fast. Today flew by as well, the entire day felt like a race against the clock to get all of our applications completed and out the door by the time the Fedex man came at 6pm. Almost everyone that we in-took on Tuesday and Wednesday had their applications sent out today; all in all USF managed to complete and send off 10 TPS applications, with 5 more pending till next week. I think everyone feels that it is VERY hard to walk away from the files that we have started, even though they will be in the very capable hands of U of Miami students.

At the end of the week, I think we all feel a little exhausted, a tiny bit overwhelmed, but overall very fortunate to have gotten to know our clients, and be able send off their applications for them. I don't think any of us expected to do the amount of outreach that we did, and I don't think we expected our clients to have been living in the United States for as long as they had, but once the program was underway those things made sense. Of course we would need to establish ourselves in the community before gaining their trust; and although our clients were not in Haiti during the earthquake, their lives will forever be impacted by that tragedy. We are so thankful to the University of Miami for being generally awesome, and excited for the lucky students that get to come in the following weeks.

Ed. note: Dana Isaac is a second-year law student at the University of San Francisco.