An Answer, Perhaps, to the Haitian TPS Puzzlement – Why So Few Takers?

By David North on August 7, 2011

One of the current immigration mysteries has been: why have so few Haitian illegal aliens in the U.S. accepted the government's offer of Temporary Protected Status, a quasi-amnesty?

After the earthquake of January 2010 the Department of Homeland Security offered TPS to all Haitians who were in the U.S. legally or illegally on the date of the quake. It expected some 100,000 to 150,000 or so to register.

TPS offers, among other things, the right to work legally in the U.S. For a USCIS fact sheet on the program see here.

DHS and USCIS promoted TPS with vigor, eliminated any need for a personal interview, and made it much easier to qualify for fee waivers; then it extended the registration period for another six months, but despite those efforts only some 55,000 signed up in the first round.

Then USCIS moved the eligibility date forward to January 11, 2011, thus making TPS available to people who arrived illegally in the U.S. in the year after the earthquake as well as those who had been eligible earlier, but who had not signed up, as I reported in an earlier blog.

The agency thought this would produce another 10,000 amnestied people, but, as of last month, only 5,500 had filed.

Now, according USCIS officials at a "stakeholders' meeting" late last month, only about 30,000 of the beneficiaries of the first round have signed up for another 18 months of legal status, or slightly over half of the 55,000 who were eligible to do so.

Why the reluctance?

During the meeting the USCIS staffer said that one reason for the under-response was that some applications had been rejected because the wrong amount of fees were submitted. That's easy to understand. New registrants pay at the rates of $50 or $135 or $515, with the highest fee being for those who want to work legally and who are thus seeking an Employment Authorization Document (EAD); for the re-registrants there is a different fee schedule, pegged at $0, $85, or $465. (The fees vary by age, and, more significantly, by EAD status.)

So the fees are both confusing and expensive, but lately another idea struck me.

Perhaps a reason that so few Haitians are taking advantage of this quasi-amnesty is because there is so little interior enforcement of the immigration law. Why pay $500 or so every 18 months if there is no danger of being caught? Especially when it is well known in the Haitian community that actual deportations to the island have been sharply reduced, if not entirely eliminated.

Here's a practical suggestion that USCIS will not like.

If ICE raided a few factories or restaurants in the right parts of Boston, Brooklyn, and Miami, there would be a sharp increase in TPS applications.

Such raids should take place immediately. The re-registration deadline for TPS aliens from Haiti is August 22, and the last day for new registrations is November 15.