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Hispanic GOP Members: Grant Legal Status to Undocumented Haitians

Hispanic Republicans in the House are urging President Barack Obama to immediately grant legal status to illegal immigrants from Haiti, a move that stands in contrast to their relative absence in the push for comprehensive immigration reform legislation.

In response to the devastating conditions in Haiti after this week’s catastrophic earthquake, Florida GOP Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen on Tuesday called on the president to grant temporary protected status to undocumented Haitian nationals currently living in the United States.

The legal status, which is meant to protect nationals of a country enduring political turmoil or a natural disaster, would enable illegal immigrants from Haiti to work legally in the U.S. for up to 18 months so they can send money back to their families in need.

“The U.S. must stop deporting Haitian nationals due to the crisis in this already devastated country,— Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement.

The lawmakers make the case that the combined destruction from the earthquake and past hurricanes that have decimated portions of the island nation “clearly makes forced repatriation of Haitians hazardous to their safety at this time. We strongly believe that it is for such a situation that Congress created TPS.—

None of three GOP lawmakers is a co-sponsor of the sweeping comprehensive immigration reform bill backed by Hispanic Democrats. The GOP Members have been largely invisible in the debate over the past several months as the all-Democratic Congressional Hispanic Caucus has rallied around the issue as their No. 1 priority.

The Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, which is working with the GOP lawmakers to build support for the effort, indicates that about 30,000 Haitians would benefit from the legal status. But the administration would need to act in the next couple of days since it takes three months for work permits to be granted.

Leaders of the center, which bills itself as one of the nation’s largest nonprofit immigration law firms, say undocumented Haitians in the United States sent $1.87 billion back to their families in Haiti in 2008.

Those funds are “a virtual lifeline for such an impoverished country,— Executive Director Cheryl Little said. Granting temporary status to this population “is one very important way for us to help Haiti get back on its feet, to permit these Haitians to work and continue to send money back to Haiti.—

Little said the reason there are so many Haitians illegally in the country is because they fled to the United States in good faith, only to be denied asylum because the “laws are stacked against them.—

Catholic Charities Legal Services Executive Director Randy McGrorty, an ally to the immigration firm, said the devastation in Haiti is so immense that anyone who opposes granting legal status to Haitian nationals “will come out looking small, petty and heartless.—

Hill Democrats, meanwhile, were lining up to press the administration to grant the status. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who chairs the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law, is circulating a letter that calls for granting the status to Haitian immigrants. Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) held a press conference urging the same.

Democratic New Jersey Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Bob Menendez, along with 17 other Senate Democrats, also sent a letter to Obama urging him to grant the temporary status.

“Now is certainly not the time to deport Haitians into an overly burdened country,” the Senators wrote. “Haiti clearly meets the criteria for TPS designation and extending it would be one small way to help address this catastrophe, as well as alleviate additional burdens on American assistance workers.”

The House comprehensive immigration bill also includes language to grant temporary status to Haitians.

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