A federal program granting special immigration status for displaced Haitians after last year's earthquake is set to expire in July, and thousands of Haitian evacuees in New York fear they might be forced to return to their devastated home country.
The Haitian Temporary Protected Status program allowed evacuees from the January 2010 earthquake to leave the battered country for an 18-month period to live and work in the U.S. without documentation. The program, which officially began on Jan. 21 of last year, is expiring July 22.
Marie Jean Ducleron, 34, was in the U.S. buying supplies for her business when the earthquake hit. She told the Daily News that she felt "very frustrated and worried" about the prospect of having to return home.
"While I was here the earthquake happened and my house was destroyed," Ducleron said. "I realized that I have to stay here, because I had no home in Haiti to go to."
Haiti, the western hemisphere's poorest country, has been slow to rebuild following the massive quake that left more than 200,000 people dead and 1 million homeless. The country has also been beset by political upheaval and a cholera outbreak.
Councilman Mathieu Eugene of Flatbush, himself a Haitian-born immigrant, told NBC New York on Thursday that the Haitian community in his district has grown significantly since the earthquake, and the lack of infrastructure, resources and medical care in the country make returning an unacceptable option.
He calls the renewal of the program "a humanitarian response."
"Most people here won't even have a place to live," Eugene said. "Their houses have been destroyed."
"They come from Haiti to the United States because they lost family, they lost houses, they lost their livelihood."
The councilman and other advocates are lobbying the government to extend the program past the July expiration date.
Department of Homeland Security spokesman Adam Fetcher said that any changes to a country's TPS status "are considered based on the current country conditions and in consultation with other U.S. government agencies."
While the program was enacted in response to the large number of earthquake evacuees, it also affects a number of Haitians previously living undocumented in the country who will now be sent back to a world they never knew.
Nadege Auguste, 31, of Flatbush, told the Newsthat she came to New York on a tourist visa four years ago because of pregnancy complications. She stayed in order to raise her son -- who suffers from kidney disease -- in a healthier environment.
"My son will die, because he can't live in Haiti," Auguste told the paper.