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.