Haitians allowed visa extensions because of devastating quake

Haitians who live in the United States on borrowed time while their country continues to rebuild itself from the earthquake two years ago will be allowed to extend their visas an extra 18 months, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced Tuesday.

Nearly 60,000 Haitians in the United States were granted temporary protected status visas after the earthquake, which registered magnitude 7.0 . It struck Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, killing tens of thousands of people and leaving 1 million homeless.

Temporary protected status is a common humanitarian gesture the United States often gives immigrants when certain disasters strike their countries, rendering their return there all but impossible, said Marie Sebrechts, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano decided to extend the visas, starting on Jan. 23 next year, after discovering that health hazards and unsafe living conditions still persist in Haiti despite the reconstruction efforts, Sebrechts said.

In short, there is a shortage of permanent living space, she added.

“While the situation has improved, the effects of the earthquake continue to reverberate in Haiti,” Sebrechts said.

In Las Vegas, there are roughly 3,000 to 4,000 Haitians, but how many of them were granted temporary protection because of the earthquake was not known.

Amors Prophete , a pastor for the Las Vegas-based Eglise Messianique de la Grace, or Messianic Church of Grace, said the extension was good news.

“It may not affect us here in Las Vegas, but Haiti needs more time, and our people who are living in the United States need more time too,” said Prophete, whose congregation consists of two dozen Haitians.

The church is run out of the First Baptist Church, 4400 W. Oakey Blvd., where space is rented to the evangelical Haitians.

Prophete said that most of the Haitian population in Las Vegas was established well before he arrived or the earthquake struck his country but that there is a distinct possibility that there are Haitians living in Las Vegas who have benefited from the temporary protected status .

The extension will start on Jan. 23 next year and last until July 22, 2014.

Contact reporter Tom Ragan at tragan@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5512.

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