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Last updated: 22 July, 2010 - Published 12:24 GMT
 
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Tough times for Haitian migrants
 

 
 
woman in tent community
Many Haitians at home still live in tents
Thousands of Haitians who fled to the United States after January's deadly earthquake are beginning to wake up to the reality that they may not realise their dream of a better life there.

Some entered the US on a visitor's visa and are only allowed to stay for six months.

If they wish to remain they are allowed to apply for one extension.

Many, however, are hoping for a long-term stay.

Their numbers include pregnant women who left Port-au-Prince after the disaster and who have since given birth.

One of them is Anne (not her real name), who currently lives in a women's shelter in the Bronx in New York.

In March a heavily pregnant Anne travelled to the US with a one-year-old daughter, leaving her husband and two older children in Haiti.

Her daughter was born in Florida last year.

Anne told BBC Caribbean thar a friend in Florida had told her that, as a US citizen, the child would be better taken care of there.

Asked to leave

"In the beginning she welcomed me, the second day was good, the third day she asked me to leave.

"I didn't want to leave because I had nowhere else to go. She asked me to leave several times and one day I decided to take the train from Florida to New York. I didn't know anyone but I came anyway."

On her way to New York, Anne met a woman who introduced her to a Catholic priest.

He then referred her to another woman who agreed to take her in temporarily.

After a few days in her new home she was also asked to leave, but ended up staying for three months.

During that time she gave birth to another daughter, who is now three months old.

Anne left her benefactor's house earlier this month and is now seeking help from the state to find accomodation for herself and her two babies.

While she awaits a decision from the authorities, she is staying in a women's shelter in the Bronx.

Refugee group

She has also been getting help from from the advocacy group, Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees, run by Ninaj Raoul.

Ninaj Raoul
Ms Raoul's organisation has been helping women like Anne

Ms Raoul told BBC Caribbean she does not approve of Anne's current living arrangements but she respects her decision.

"I've never been comfortable referring newcomer refugees to the shelters because there's no one who speaks your language there," she said.

"It's already difficult for someone who was born here. I understand that for the first fifteen days they can move you around every day and put you in different welfare hotels while they're investigating to confirm whether or not you're truly homeless."

Anne does not qualify for any benefits because she is in the US on a visitor's visa but Ms Raoul is optimistic that the two children could help her case.

"I have never had the experience of any Haitian people being placed in housing.

"But I'm told by the social workers who referred her that they're aware of some Latino folks that have US-born children that have been placed in city housing. Her advantage is that she does have two US-born children," she said.

Overcrowded

Anne's story is not unique. There are other mothers who arrived after the quake and have found themselves in a similar situation.

Ms Raoul explained that many families have not been able to accommodate relatives who came in after the earthquake, because their homes are already overcrowded.

She recalled another woman, in her twenties, who recently gave birth via caesarean section.

"She lives in Queens but she has been told that she has to be out because they're expecting other family from Haiti, so she roams around Brooklyn everyday with this baby.

"She ended up having to go back to the hospital because her stitches were opening and she was probably moving around too early."

Deferred action

Ms Raoul is hoping that the immigration department will offer some concessions to the newcomers.

She fears that when their time is up they risk becoming the new group of undocumented Haitian migrants.

Immigration attorney Jin Sun Park told BBC Caribbean that they have the option of extending their visas or applying to a programme called deferred action.

"Deferred action is essentially you don't have status in the US and immigration knows you're here, but they're not going to deport you," she said.

"Deferred action is good because you can apply for work authorisation but it's a very specific and narrow form of relief and it's discretionary so it's not easy to get."

In Anne's case, she says her only option is to return to Haiti.

But she says she plans to remain in the US for as long as possible, in the hope that her situation will improve.

 
 
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