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On Friday, January 15, 2010, the Obama Administration acted swiftly to make all Haitians illegally living in the United States eligible to apply for legal status in the wake of the tragedy caused by the massive earthquake on January 12, 2010.

This historic new law allows all Haitians who were here illegally and were physically present in the U.S. on the day of the earthquake to immediately apply for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which provides significant benefits. All Haitians are now eligible to obtain legal status and a work permit, even if they were previously ordered deported by Immigration. Those Haitians now in deportation proceedings can now obtain TPS and stop their deportation. Additionally, Haitians will also be able to apply for Social Security numbers and driver’s licenses. Under certain circumstances, Haitians with TPS may even be able to obtain their green cards!

The timing could not be better or more critical for Haitians here and back home in their devastated country. The real blessing in obtaining TPS status is not limited to obtaining temporary legal status for Haitians in the U.S. illegally. Perhaps more significantly, Haitians here can finally work legally and earn fair and just wages which can in part be sent back home to family and friends who are in such desperate need.

Despite the terrible tragedy that persists in Haiti, yesterday’s enactment of TPS is one of my proudest moments as both an immigration attorney and the son of an immigrant. Haitians in the U.S. have finally been given the justice they deserved for many years. I am from Miami, and personally witnessed the discrimination Haitians suffered when past tragedies and unrest in Haiti went ignored by my country. For years, I have shared the grief and deep frustration when Haitians here were trapped in a broken system and could not fully help their families and their country when tragedy struck. President Obama has now ended that dark past, and opened a bright new path of hope to a great people.

I believe that all of us have a moral obligation and an important role to play in rebuilding Haiti. Doctors are working 24 hours a day in Haiti without the benefit of basic medicine and tools. Governments are directing foreign aid and helping secure conditions on the ground. Churches, temples, and charitable organizations are praying and gathering donations.

As an immigration attorney, my role is to ensure that illegal Haitians receive professional legal advice and expert preparation of their TPS applications so they can each start working legally and be able to help their people back home. If you are Haitian, your role is perhaps most important. You owe it to yourself, your children, family, and friends both here and in Haiti to obtain legal status the justice that you were so long denied. By fulfilling our roles, we can all be part of rebuilding a better Haiti right now.

Rusten Hurd

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