FIU College of Law trains and sends volunteers to help Haitians apply for protected status

Florida International University’s College of Law has partnered with two South Florida non-profit organizations to provide legal assistance to Haitians looking to file for temporary protected status (TPS).

Catholic Legal Services and the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center have organized clinics—and FIU has begun providing law students, faculty, staff and alumni–to help undocumented Haitians fill out the proper paperwork that would allow them to legally live and work in the United States on a temporary basis.

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Following the devastating earthquake in Haiti, the Department of Homeland Security allowed undocumented Haitians to file for TPS. Applicants must have been living in the United States prior to the Jan. 12 earthquake. Homeland Security officials have estimated that between 100,000 to 200,000 Haitians will seek TPS, the majority living in South Florida. The window for applying for this legal status ends on June 21.

“FIU can help ensure that every Haitian who qualifies for TPS receives it before this opportunity expires,” said Law Professor Troy Elder, director of the Carlos A. Costa Immigration and Human Rights Clinic. “The application is extremely complicated and time-consuming. There are pitfalls to be avoided, and law students have the necessary training to help spot them. Through our network of students, faculty and alumni, we can speed up the process and help our partners and their Haitian clients submit these applications faster.”

The Immigration Clinic, which has a history of advocacy on behalf of Haitians, already has held six training sessions for law students and faculty interested in helping Haitians fill out the TPS form, with a seventh session planned this Friday. Those volunteers, about 100 so far, then are sent to Catholic Legal Services, where they help review applications and ensure they have been filled out correctly before being filed with immigration authorities.

And last week, FIU’s Biscayne Bay Campus hosted a legal clinic run by FIAC. It was staffed by volunteer attorneys as well as students, faculty, and staff from the College of Law to help Haitians fill out the complicated forms. “The service we are providing here will help thousands of Haitians work for decent wages and begin the process of helping their family back in Haiti recover from this terrible disaster,” said Thomas Juliano, a third year FIU law student who has helped lead the law school’s training sessions. “The more volunteers we have to help make sure applications are properly filled out, the more chances Haitians living in the United States have of receiving the legal rights they are entitled to.”

The TPS clinics are the latest in FIU’s ongoing efforts to provide support to Haiti. Last week, FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg convened the first meeting of the FIU Haiti Relief Task Force, a group of leaders from around the university brought together for the purpose of coordinating the short, mid- and long-term efforts of the university for Haiti.

Throughout FIU, various departments are identifying and harnessing the knowledge and skills of faculty, staff and students to address the medical, infrastructure and other relief and recovery needs for Haiti. FIU also is committed to assisting its students with ties to Haiti who are experiencing hardship as a result of the earthquake.

The College of Law will continue to send volunteers to process applications throughout the six-month period.

“This partnership is a win-win for everyone,” said College of Law Dean R. Alexander Acosta, who has also been volunteering to help Haitians fill out the forms. “Our students learn to be lawyers, and at the same time Haitian nationals receive much needed legal help. More importantly, it teaches our students the importance of helping the community.”

Anyone interested in volunteering send an e-mail to clinicalprograms@fiu.edu. For a video of the College of Law’s efforts, click here.

FIU also is constructing a database of Creole speakers willing to serve as interpreters to help with a variety of efforts, including TPS applications and requests the university has received from its community partners.

Media Contact: Jean-Paul Renaud at 305-348-2716.

-FIU-

About FIU College of Law:
The Florida International University College of Law meets an important need in the community by providing a quality, affordable legal education for South Florida residents. The student body, while principally from South Florida, is diverse in racial, ethnic, and professional background. FIU College of Law graduates have passed the Florida Bar Exam at rates exceeding the statewide pass rate.

About FIU:
Florida International University was founded in 1965 and is Miami’s only public research university. With a student body of more than 38,000, its 17 colleges and schools offer more than 200 bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs in fields such as engineering, international relations and law. More than 100,000 FIU alumni live and work in South Florida. FIU has been classified by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as a “High Research Activity University”. In August 2009, FIU welcomed the inaugural class of the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine. For more information about FIU, visit http:www.fiu.edu.