FORT MYERS, Fla -- A change in immigration status could hurt Southwest Florida's largest employer in the next few weeks. Many Haitian immigrants, who were allowed to work here after an earthquake devastated the island nation in 2010, won't be legally allowed to work here as soon as next week.
"That's what's happening with a lot of the employees at Lee Health, is legally they have to let them go, even though the law says we’re going to extend this TPS program," explained Indera DeMine, an immigration attorney in Fort Myers.
DeMine said the Employment Authorization Document, EAD, a work permit under Temporary Protection Status, needs to be renewed by January 22nd. The only problem is the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has not opened registration to re-apply.
It means that many Haitians will lose their jobs as they await deportation in July 2019 because of the non-renewal of TPS.
“It puts a lot of employers in a bad situation because again you’re in that limbo that you can’t keep an employee on," said DeMine.
Lee Health, one of the employers with employees under TPS, gave this statement to Fox 4:
“We are disappointed that the federal government has not reopened the work reauthorization process. It is our hope that the government will extend work authorization for our team members and other Haitians in our community. Until the government provides further guidance on the work reauthorization process, we must comply with federal laws.”
DeMine explained that she's seen an increase of employers asking for help to find ways to keep their employees. The attorney immigrated from Guyana at the age of 15 and says she understands the difficulty her clients are facing.
"It’s very heartbreaking, because I had to tell them, do you want your children to return with you or do you want to leave them with someone," she said. "As a taxpayer do I want to spend my money on deportation and deporting however many people are here in the United States or as a taxpayer do I want to be more selective with the deportation.”
The Immigrant Legal Resource Center says, "deporting all Salvadoran, Honduran, and Haitian TPS holders would cost taxpayers 3.1 billion dollars."
The US Department of Homeland Security says the special status for Haitians is no longer necessary because Haiti has "significantly recovered from the 2010 earthquake."