U.S.-based charity Church World Service (CWS) has begun a series of workshops to help Haitian immigrants take advantage of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) granted them in light of the destruction caused in Haiti by last month's earthquake.
Signs of hope and relief have been noticeable at the "TPS Days" clinics, which have assisted immigrants in several major cities along the East Coast including New York, Lancaster, and Miami.
"Without documentation, it's like you don't exist in this country," said one woman at the clinic, who came to the United States "21 years ago, hoping for a better life, to go to school, to have a decent job."
"That didn't happen, and I'm getting old now!" she told CWS. "I depend on friends to call me for odd jobs. With TPS, I'll be able to call potential employers myself."
Another applicant said he had been able to find enough work, but noted that he has been pained in not being able to see his family in Haiti, especially his son.
"When I left, my son was 3. Now he's 21. We've not seen each other all this time," he sighed. "We do our best."
The U.S. government announced that it would grant TPS to Haitian immigrants just days after the Jan. 12 quake struck. The move received applause from members of the relief community, including CWS, who called the effort "an important component of a comprehensive U.S. humanitarian response to the current crisis in Haiti."
Recipients of TPS are protected from deportation and are allowed to live and work legally in the United States for 18 months.
While a significant policy, however, CWS considers TPS as only a beginning point for larger scale reform of the U.S. immigration system.
"TPS provides short-term help to some, but Haitians and other immigrants need lasting reform to reunite separated families, protect workers and provide a pathway to legal status and eventual citizenship for undocumented immigrants," said the Rev. John L. McCullough, CWS Executive Director and CEO, in a statement.
CWS is currently working with the National Council of Churches (NCC) on a Lenten campaign for immigration reform, with the groups calling on congregations throughout America to be active in the reform process.
"As Christians we are called to affirm our interrelatedness and interdependence with every child of God, and are called not only to come to the aid of one another, but are commanded to rise to support those who are marginalized in our society," a Feb. 16 letter from McCullough and NCC secretary general Michael Kinnamon reads.
Some suggestions given by the groups on how to get involved with the reform process include hosting prayer vigils, teaching Bible studies on the topic, and contacting members of Congress.
The groups have also issued an open invitation to a Washington, D.C. immigration reform rally, which will be hosted on March 21 by D.C.-based group Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD).
"We understand that change of our immigration system will not be easy. Yet we also believe change is possible," the letter read.
"For humane immigration reform to be enacted, your faithful witness as to the importance of comprehensive immigration reform will be needed. We ask you to be present, be connected and help organize immigration reform efforts in your local community," it continues.