Paralegals Help Haitians Seeking TPS

The legal profession needs more publicity like this and the public needs to know more about the good works members of the legal profession do.  Unfortunately, this story appeared on Law.com where it is not likely to be read by the general public. Perhaps it has been, or will be, reported in other media.

Because of the earthquake in Haiti, the Obama administration is granting temporary protected status to Haitian living here. This has led to a tsunami of TPS application, mostly by people too poor to pay for legal services. But

The legal community in South Florida has come together to help Haitians apply for TPS pro bono. FIAC and Catholic Charities Legal Services of the Archdiocese of Miami are the most active. Catholic Charities holds free Friday walk-in clinics at the Notre Dame church and consults with Haitians daily at its Wilton Manors office in Broward County.

Catholic Charities has signed up more than 1,500 applicants, said Myriam Mezadieu, chief administrative officer for Catholic Legal Services. Many lack money for the application fees and leave to try to scrounge up the money from relatives before returning to complete the forms.

Still, “TPS was a wonderful thing for us,” Mezadieu said. “It was time they did it. Deporting somebody wouldn’t be a good idea at this time. I’m grateful to the administration.”

At the Notre Dame church, Mezadieu and two paralegals sit at desks in a large room, meeting with a constant stream of Haitians. Paralegal Cassy Pierre is a Creole-speaking volunteer. Paralegal Damaris Gil works for Catholic Charities but does not speak Creole. “They usually send me the people who speak English,” she said.

For the first two weeks, the line was out the door into the parking lot, and the paralegals worked until midnight, the paralegals said.

Stacks of applications are taken back to the main Catholic Charities offices, where lawyers review the applications and file them with the government.

Because this is a blog about and for the paralegal profession I focus on recognizing the paralegals, but in this instance there many others who deserve recognition:

Law firms and law schools have been helping the applicants in various ways, first with financial aid after the earthquake and now with TPS volunteers.

The Florida Bar Foundation has awarded grants totaling $297,000 to legal aid offices in Florida that have seen an influx of Haitians applying for TPS.

Duane Morris collaborated with FIAC and Florida International University to host a pro bono TPS legal clinic on Jan. 30. Numerous lawyers and staff helped more than 100 Haitians who attended.

Greenberg Traurig also has launched a pro bono TPS effort.

The Haitian Lawyers Association in conjunction with the city of Miami Gardens and the Cuban American Bar Association held an all-day TPS clinic last weekend.

The event was extensively promoted on Haitian radio stations. This was the third TPS clinic sponsored by the Haitian Lawyers Association.

About 30 lawyers volunteered to help, Champagne said.

Later this month, the University of Miami School of Law’s Health & Elder Law Clinic is hosting law student groups from around the country for an alternative spring break.

Groups of 10 to 15 students from Stanford University, the University of San Francisco, University of Memphis, New England School of Law and UM’s law school will spend their free time working on TPS applications rather than “sunning and funning.”

So much pro bono help has been offered that lawyers trying to sign up paying clients for TPS help have seen only a few.

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