Posted by Guest on January 29, 2018 in Blog

By Mona Ahmed

The fate of almost 7,000 Syrians residing in the U.S. with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) will likely be announced on January 31. Prior to that day, the Trump Administration must decide if the program will be extended for another 18-month period from March 31.

TPS provides an alternative solution for Syrians that either don’t qualify for, or don’t want to commit to the permanence of seeking asylum, but need immediate shelter from the ongoing armed conflict in their home country. Unlike asylum, TPS provides no designated lawful path to permanent residency or citizenship and does not allow for family reunification. Instead, it is meant to provide temporary sanctuary for citizens fleeing armed conflict or environmental disasters that make it impossible for them to return without jeopardizing their lives.

The DHS must choose one of three outcomes when it comes to TPS. of TPS for Syrians, which would allow an additional 2,000 people to be protected by it. If it is only renewed, the protection will continue to apply exclusively to those who already qualified for TPS. If it is terminated, the protection will end in March.

Mayada, an 82-year-old mother, faces deportation if Syria is not re-designated. In 2013, when she first arrived in the U.S., she was granted TPS. Her husband, who was also granted TPS, passed away a few months ago. Mayada’s three children have all resettled in the U.S. Her grandchildren are also here, leaving Mayada with little reason to return to Syria even if it were safe for her to do so. Her case points out a significant issue with TPS in that it does not allow a path to residency.

Mayada’s son, who once owned a successful clothing business in Damascus, is currently volunteering and learning English. He was granted asylum and voices his concern about his mother’s potential departure, “My mother is very sad. She cannot go back; there is no one there for her anymore. She is very worried and my kids ask me, ‘Daddy, can you imagine living without Grandma if she has to go back?’ I haven’t slept for days since we heard TPS may be in question. Me and my sister, we are taking care of her. We are here.”

Nisreen Saadia, a 31 year old French teacher and translator at Dieruff High School comments on how the war in Syria has forced her to restart her life, "I lost everything in my country. I have no job, no friends, no safe place. If I go there, how will I live?"

Immigration policy that encourages the deportation of individuals regardless of the ever-present conflict in their home countries will put thousands of Syrian lives at risk. Mayada could not have anticipated that her country would be war-stricken for this long, or that her husband would pass away before her return.

The need to re-designate a country under TPS every 18-months provides an opportunity to reevaluate the conditions of the situation on the ground. However, this type of policy fluidity requires critical consideration for both the conditions abroad, and for the ever-changing personal circumstances of the individuals residing in the U.S. Otherwise, people like Mayada will be thrust into life-threatening situations.

Just last week, the Trump Administration acknowledged the situation in Syria when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that ...“The catastrophic state of affairs is directly related to the continued lack of security…”

Despite this admission, advocates are concerned because the Trump Administration has already terminated TPS designation for people from El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Haiti, among others.

Contrary to some of the rhetoric about immigrants, 81-88% of TPS long-term beneficiaries from El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti are active participants in the labor force. Eleven percent of which act as job creators, dispelling the myth that displaced persons take jobs from local residents. Without these TPS beneficiaries $164 billion would be lost from U.S. GDP over ten years.  

According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 2.8 million Syrians continue to seek refuge from the Syrian civil war. Since TPS renewal is dependent on the possibility for safe reintegration of its diaspora, this should be a clear indicator that Syria should remain on this list.

Mona Ahmed is a Spring 2018 intern at the Arab American Institute.