MIAMI (AP) — Haitians in the U.S. illegally have for years pleaded for the same treatment the federal government gave Central Americans in 1998 after Hurricane Mitch devastated their region.

They want temporary legal status allowing them to stay, work and send money home. Each year they have been denied — despite four tropical storms in 2008, floods almost every other year since 2000 and ongoing political strife.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano temporarily halted deportations of Haitians Wednesday but advocates want a longer-term solution.

Thousands of Haitian immigrants hope Tuesday's catastrophic earthquake will push Washington to honor their request. About 30,000 have orders to leave the U.S. Others are appealing their cases. Many more live underground.