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After arrival full of hope, many Haitians despair in US

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Mona Pompilus, 36, says she cannot take her son, Klhauss, 8, back to Haiti because their home collapsed during last year’s earthquake. (Yoon S. Byun/ Globe Staff)

BROCKTON — The young schoolteacher fled Haiti after the powerful earthquake, the day she spent four terrifying hours pinned under a car and a pile of rubble. In Massachusetts, she found medical care to heal her grotesquely swollen leg, counseling to quiet her nightmares, and hopeful messages from the US government that it would help her start over.

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* 1/12/11 After arrival full of hope, many Haitians despair in US
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But today, the one year anniversary of the quake, she is homeless, with no documentation to work or drive, and living in a Brockton shelter with her husband and two daughters, aged 3 and 2 months. She is among a flood of Haitians silently adrift across the United States. Many fled the horrific disaster, using visitor visas to enter the United States and stay with friends or relatives, hoping to stay, at least temporarily, to work and rebuild.

In April, a top federal immigration official said Haitians who fled the earthquake could apply for deferred action, a rarely used immigration benefit that could allow them to stay and work for a fixed amount of time. But hundreds of applications are still unresolved nationwide, and advocates say that many Haitians are still unaware that the option exists.

Because they are not permitted to work, many are becoming burdens on their families or finding themselves homeless, according to Catholic Charities and other advocates. In Massachusetts, some are reluctant wards of the state, which pays for food stamps, apartment shelters, or hotel rooms for destitute families.

“I just want to have legal status. I need to start over,’’ said the woman, who asked not to be identified because she has applied for deferred action and fears deportation. She spoke in a single room in the Westgate Hotel in Brockton, where her family lived for nearly two months before being moved yesterday to an emergency family shelter.

A spokesman for the immigration official, Alejandro Mayorkas, director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, declined requests for an interview for this story. Matthew Chandler, spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the immigration agency, said federal officials are reviewing their policies regarding Haitians who fled the earthquake.

Many Haitians had hoped for another designation that would allow them to work, called temporary protected status. But the Obama administration did not extend that option to Haitians fleeing the quake’s devastation, partly to discourage a life-threatening mass migration by sea. Some advocates have pressed the government to give Haitians who fled the earthquake temporary protected status, as they did for Hondurans and Salvadorans who came to the United States after disasters in their countries.

It is unclear how many Haitians who fled the quake remain in limbo, but Catholic Charities officials said they know of at least 330 people in Boston and Brockton. The organization’s Miami offices estimated their numbers in the thousands nationwide

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