by Linda Cundiff
Saturday, February 20th, there was a remarkable gathering of folks at Harvard Law School to be trained in how to assist Haitians applying for Temporary Protective Status that was organized by the UUSC & UUA. (Webinar trainings for people in other areas of the country will be offered on March 3rd & 10th). Over 40 volunteers, including law students, UUs of many backgrounds, community organizers, and others were enthralled by the presentation by Jacques Dessin, a lawyer and trainer of Haitian background. He presented clear and concise information about this new immigration process for Haitians who were here in the US before the earthquake without documentation. I had expected to be completely bored and bewildered; imagine my surprise when I found it fascinating!
Many attending had questions about the most basic issue: is TPS a good thing for these Haitians? The answer to this is not easy, and volunteers need to just give the information without recommendations, as each person will have to decide this for themselves. They will be able to work, get driver’s licenses, and other important things that documented folks have. The risk they might feel is making themselves known to the “system” and what that might mean in the future.
I had been included in the planning for this first training because I am leading an initiative to address immigration issues at my church, First Parish UU in Cambridge MA, and because in my work life I lead community health outreach for a public hospital system in the targeted communities. A partnership has developed with local non-profits in the four small cities that are home to the largest numbers of Haitians in Massachusetts. These include the Haitian Coalition and anti-poverty (CAP) agencies, health departments, Haitian churches, other community coalitions and Harvard Law School. UUSC and UUA staff were instrumental to the success of this initiative. They brought together the partners, found a trainer, developed the webinars, and generally provided logistical support.
Back at First Parish Cambridge UU on Standing on the Side of Love ‘Reimagining Valentine’s Day’ Sunday, we had an inspiring “To Haiti With Love” service (see Rev. Fred Small’s sermon), and members of the Haitian Coalition were there. There were requests from the pulpit to sign up for TPS training and other Haiti related events. Over 15 people signed up and half of them attended the first training.
The next step is organizing “TPS legal clinics” for the community. Systems will be set up to assist folks in completing the paperwork and submitting it. For large events in Haitian churches we will need many volunteers to help not just with the forms and processes, but to translate, and to provide food and entertainment for children and hospitality. We’re looking forward to that!
For more information about getting trained to volunteer at a TPS Legal Clinic, see the UUA’s Immigration website.
Linda Cundiff is a member of First Parish Cambridge UU and Senior Director for Community Affairs at Cambridge Health Alliance.
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