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9295: Low-income Haitians to get citizenship help (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Published Sunday, October 21, 2001

Low-income Haitians to get citizenship help

Herald Writer
Some Haitians looking to become American citizens will get some free help 
with the process.

Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc. -- which provides free legal 
assistance -- will begin offering its services to ``low income'' Haitians on 
Tuesday as part of the Haitian Citizenship Project.

Hilda Cenecharles from legal services is the first lawyer to be assigned to 
the program.

``A person is low income if they are receiving government benefits or if 
they earn minimum wage,'' she said.

Cenecharles will help with the application process by reviewing eligibility 
for different types of waivers from the Immigration and Naturalization 

``I will fill out application fee waivers and medical waivers when 
necessary,'' she said.

If a fee waiver is denied, she could then take the issue to court.

Medical waivers are usually granted to exempt an applicant from one or both 
parts of the citizenship exam.

The first part consists of U.S. civic and historical knowledge and the 
second part tests an individual's English literacy.

Cenecharles says that if someone has a medical problem that prevents him or 
her from taking the test, a doctor can fill out a waiver describing the 
condition to the INS.

As a Creole-speaking Haitian, Cenecharles will also be able to translate the 
naturalization application for her clients.

She may also be able to provide eligible applicants with a Creole version of 
the exam.

Cenecharles has already begun spreading the word about the service and she 
is in the process of contacting organizations in the Haitian community.

She recently gave a presentation at the Haitian American Foundation where 
she explained how becoming a U.S. citizen could help elderly Haitians 
receive government benefits.

There are many elderly immigrants who have trouble reading and cannot 
memorize historical facts for the exam. Many of them may qualify for elderly 
or disability exemptions from the exam.

The Haitian American Foundation already provides immigrants with health, 
housing, job placement and many other services.

Cenecharles says she believes that becoming a citizen is very important.

``It provides you with the right to vote,'' she said. ``If you don't vote, 
you don't really count.''

She also said that as a citizen, an immigrant could claim a spouse or a 
child less than 18 years old that is living outside the country.

The new project is a result of grants from The National Association for 
Public Interest Law, the Florida Bar Foundation and the private law firm of 
Greenberg Traurig.

NAPIL is an organization for law students actively involved in providing 
legal services for low-income individuals and families.

Imoni Washington, program associate of NAPIL Fellowship, said that the grant 
for the Haitian Citizenship Project was one of 70 chosen out of 500 

``We felt it was a worthy project because of the need described in the 
application and because of Hilda's connection to the community,'' she said.

NAPIL provided 50 percent of the $44,000 necessary for the project, while 
The Florida Bar Foundation and Greenberg Traurig contributed the other half. 
Legal Services is covering overhead costs.

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