Temporary amnesty brings joy, questions for local Haitians

This gallery collects all of our photos of the crisis in Haiti, starting with the most recent images and going back to the first photos that emerged after an earthquake hit the impoverished nation Jan. 12.
By N.C. Aizenman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 17, 2010; 11:59 AM

When a friend called a 36-year-old Haitian woman from Takoma Park to tell her Haitians who have been living in the United States illegally will be allowed to stay and work for the next 18 months, the woman dropped the phone.

"I screamed. I got on my knees. And I cried 'Lord, Thank you, Thank you, Thank you,' " the woman, whose middle name is Stephanie, recalled. "Nine years I have been waiting for this."

But for Stephanie, who asked that only her middle name be used because she does not want acquaintances to know she has been an illegal immigrant all this time, the feeling was bittersweet.

The massive earthquake that prompted the Obama aministration to extend Haitians "temporary protected status" or TPS, flattened the house in Port-au-Prince where Stephanie grew up, leaving two of her brothers and their children homeless. Two other brothers are still unaccounted for.

"I said, 'Lord, All those people had to lose their lives so that you can deliver me from my hardship?' It's like joy and sorrow at the same time."

So it went in Haitian immigrant enclaves across the country this weekend as word of the TPS decision Friday spread among the estimated 100,000 to 200,000 foreigners expected to qualify.

Many are still trying to sort out the details.

"Will I need a lawyer?" wondered Vertus Louidor, 31, also of Takoma Park, who has mostly relied on close friends to house and feed her since she fled the poverty and unemployment of her rural hometown four years ago.

Dady Philogene, 28, a mother of two young American children who lives in Salisbury, was nervous about identifying herself to authorities--especially since there is no guarantee the status will be renewed after 18 months. "It's hard to put into words the feeling," she said. "You ask yourself what is going to happen afterwards."

But she was still keen to try. "Can I ask you a question, How long will the process take? When can I apply?" she asked a reporter.

The Department of Homeland Security's Web site does not yet state how soon the registration period will start. But once it is announced, Haitians will have 180 days to mail in their application forms.

They will be required to provide proof of Haitian nationality--a passport, birth certificate, or affidavits from relatives. They will also need to demonstrate that they were living in the United States before the earthquake -- by presenting pay stubs, receipts for rent or other documentation.

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