The Department of Homeland Security announced Thursday it will extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 18 months, affecting nearly 7,000 Syrians living legally in the United States. Protections for Syria were officially set to expire under the program on September 30, 2019, leaving families just two months to pack up their lives and return to Syria, or risk deportation.
Extending TPS allows those who are already protected to remain legally in the United States, however the administration’s decision to not re-designate shuts out future Syrian immigrants from applying for TPS. If the Trump administration were to re-designate the program rather than simply extend it, an additional 7,000 Syrians would be eligible for protections.
The TPS program designation — which grants temporary work authorization to certain immigrants from countries ravaged by war, natural disasters, or disease — does not lead to any kind of pathway to citizenship, so TPS recipients are at the whim of presidents who may decide to cancel the program.
Syria became a TPS designated country in 2012 following the State Department’s determination that President Bashar al-Assad used the military to suppress protests through violent and deadly repression tactics. The decision was extended and re-designated four more times. In January of 2018, then-Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen wrote in her decision to extend the program that “it is clear that the conditions upon which Syria’s designation was based continue to exist, therefore an extension is warranted under the statute. ”
Over a year later after TPS for Syrians was last extended, the conflict in Syria is still far from over. According to Syrian media, more than 100 civilians were killed in Syria over the course of just 10 days in July. Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, over 560,000 people have been killed.
“TPS continues to be crucial for thousands of Syrians in the US,” American Relief Coalition for Syria said in a statement. “It allows them to work legally, to build business, to continue their education, but most importantly, to live in peace and security […]. Syrians should not be forced to return to a country where violence and the threat of barrel bombs has become a norm.”
Monzer Shakally, a 23-year-old student at the University of Iowa’s College of Dentistry, has lived in the United States since 2012, after he was detained at age 16 by the Syrian government for participating in a peaceful protest.
“There isn’t really anyway to prepare for this,” Shakally told ThinkProgress. “The only help I have is my friends and close relatives, prayers, and their support.”
Shakally, whose only family member in the United States is his brother, a doctor in California, says that for thousands of Syrians, going back is not an option.
“As stressful as it is, I have it a lot better compared to others: I’m single, I have family that is really supportive in terms of mental and financial support, I have a bachelors from an American college,” Shakally said. “For some people going back to Syria is not a possibility, it will be a death sentence for them. Keeping those people in mind is what keeps me motivated to fight.”
“The situation in Syria is extremely dangerous,” he added. “People live for the day. You know, people [in the United States] joke about how they want to live for the day, but it’s really not as fun as it sounds when you could leave your house and never come back.”
Permanent solutions for immigrants from countries like Syria has never been more necessary. However, the Trump administration is currently debating whether to accept zero refugees next fiscal year.
Since Trump became president, U.S. refugee levels have been dropping at an alarming rate. This year alone, the administration cut refugee admissions by a third to just 30,000, the lowest refugee admissions goal in the history of the program. The United States has only welcomed 461 Syrian refugees in fiscal year-to-date 2019; a 96% drop from 2016.
Other countries with TPS designation include Haiti, El Salvador, Honduras, Nepal, Sudan, and Nicaragua. When the Trump administration decided to end protections for six out of the 10 TPS designated countries, thousands of families were placed in limbo. Faced with a court injunction, in early March, the administration temporarily extended protections for nearly 94% of all TPS holders until January 2020. This included 200,000 TPS holders from El Salvador, 50,000 from Haiti, 2,500 from Nicaragua, and 1,000 from Sudan. Protections for Nepalese and Honduran TPS holders are currently being battled over in a lawsuit.
One way to secure protections for all TPS holders is for Congress to pass the Dream and Promise Act, a bill which would provide a path to citizenship not only for undocumented youth brought to the United States as children, but also for immigrants with TPS and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED). Under the bill, TPS and DED holders will receive lawful permanent residence status if they have been in the United States for three years before the bill is enacted, were eligible for TPS on September 25, 2016 or had DED status as of September 28, 2016. The House of Representatives passed the Dream and Promise Act in early June, however the majority-Republican Senate is unlikely to take it up for a vote.