Local legal community helping Haitian immigrants stay in U.S., Springfield

Thousands of immigrants have come to Clark County in recent years.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

With a large number of Haitian immigrants settling in Springfield and other areas of Clark County, legal experts are working to ensure community members avoid being sent back to a country in turmoil.

The country is dealing with the aftermath of flooding and earthquakes plus gangs that have become more violent over the past few years and largely controlled life since the president’s assassination in 2021. The U.S. has the largest Haitian population outside of Haiti, and groups working with the population in Springfield estimate between 4,000 and 8,000 people from Haiti living in the community.

Several of the Haitian immigrants in Springfield are here legally under Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which prevents those registered from being deported until Aug. 3, 2024, according to Katie Kersh of Advocates for Basic Legal Equality Inc. (ABLE).

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Local nonprofits and government entities are working to help the community with its legal needs, obtaining translation services for legal documents and proceedings, helping workers understand their rights and assisting community members with obtaining TPS or other means of legally remaining in the country. This includes ABLE and the local Bar Association.

“ABLE has been working really hard to try to figure out how we can serve this community better — the Haitian community,” Kersh, a senior attorney with ABLE said during a May Haitian Coalition meeting. “So we’ve tried to set out some case priorities.”

Many Haitians are employed with Dole Fresh Vegetables Co. in Springfield and working with First Diversity Staffing, Kersh said. She said outreach paralegal Alejandra Espino is focused on helping this community and other immigrants know their rights as workers to avoid being taken advantage of.

She said Haitians involved in a labor dispute with their workplace may be eligible for Deferred Action in which the Department of Homeland Security decides not to prosecute or deport a person, which is often faster than TPS but is not legal status so it can be reversed at any time.

ABLE also has expertise in helping immigrants who are crime victims or human trafficking victims who cooperate with law enforcement obtain visas, Kersh said. Many of the cases in the area are being handled by Catholic Charities of Southwest Ohio, and ABLE is working with the organization to make sure they don’t duplicate services.

Judge Katrine Lancaster of the Clark County Juvenile Court said at the May meeting the Clark County Bar Association is doing a legal series on how the immigration is impacting law practice in the area in June.

Only lawyers and paralegals should help Haitians with TPS or Asylum, Lancaster said, because untrained individuals may provide incorrect information and some people preying upon others who need the service.

“This is pro bono work; they’re not getting paid for it, and if there are questions that may come up during the process of the paperwork, it’s very easy to complete,” Lancaster said. “And there is an attorney who is assisting who does oversight to make sure that there has been some vetting that has occurred. That’s not happening for others in the community that might understand the paperwork.”

Lancaster said the Clark County Municipal Court is also trying to hire more interpreters who speak Haitian languages like Haitian Creole and French to meet the growing need.

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