Syrians with temporary status in the US await Trump decision

Temporary protected status for 6,000 Syrians will expire in March if not extended by the Trump administration by Jan. 30. The decision, which could have implications for Syrian refugees around the world, could clarify the administration's position on asylum claims.

Osman Orsal/Reuters
Syrian children look out from their tents at Kelbit refugee camp in Idlib province in Syria on Jan. 17, 2018. The Trump administration will decide on Jan. 30 whether 6,000 Syrians who fled Syria due to civil war living in the United States can remain.

Targeted by the Syrian government after providing humanitarian supplies to civilians fleeing air strikes, Mohammad Alala and his wife escaped in 2012, eventually obtaining student visas to enter the United States.

They received a form of temporary protected status (TPS) extended to Syrians in the US because of Syria's civil war. After moving to Florida, Mr. Alala found work as an engineer and his wife, Dania Kassas, enrolled in graduate school.

Now, the couple's ability to remain in the US legally is uncertain. Their asylum claims are unresolved and TPS for Syrians will expire at the end of March unless the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) decides to extend it.

The decision, due by Jan. 30, will affect some 6,000 Syrians. If their status is withdrawn, they could lose the ability to work in the US and face possible deportation back to Syria, where the war rages into a seventh year.

President Trump's administration has demonstrated deep skepticism toward TPS, a program established by Congress in 1990 to provide temporary reprieve for immigrants whose home countries face disaster or conflict.

Since Mr. Trump took office, DHS has announced an end to protections for immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan. It has extended the protection for South Sudanese, and deferred a decision on Hondurans to later this year.

Administration officials have criticized previous presidents for leaving the status in place long after the crises that prompted it were over.

Stephen Yale-Loehr, a law professor at Cornell University, said the decision on Syria could indicate whether the administration dislikes the entire concept of TPS or simply thinks it was too leniently renewed in the past.

"If the administration wants to make it known that they are considering whether to extend TPS on a case-by-case basis, Syria presents a much clearer case why it should be extended," Mr. Yale-Loehr said. If they rescind the protection for Syrians, "then it signals that they think the concept and philosophy of TPS is unwarranted."

A DHS spokesman said the administration has not made a decision on Syria's TPS, which was put in place in 2012, the year after the war began.

Some groups traditionally critical of the program are holding back in Syria's case. Roy Beck, president of Numbers USA, which favors immigration restrictions, said the group has not taken an official position on whether TPS for Syrians should be rescinded. The group supported ending protections for immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Honduras.

Alala said he came under suspicion from the government of President Bashar al-Assad when he refused to participate in pro-government rallies. He also quietly helped families fleeing government air strikes with humanitarian aid.

Alala and his family are awaiting a decision on their asylum application, which they made in 2013. In the meantime, he dreads the prospect of being sent back.

"The war is still going on in most of Syria, so it's not safe from my perspective for anyone to go back there," he said.

There is widespread agreement that civilians are in grave danger in Syria, a fact acknowledged by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a speech this month.

"Assad has gassed his own people, he has barrel-bombed entire villages and urban neighborhoods," Secretary Tillerson said. "Those abuses continue to this day."

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) "believes that the conditions for refugees to return in safety and dignity are not yet in place in Syria," said Andrej Mahecic, a UNHCR spokesman.

Although the number of Syrians affected by the TPS decision is small compared to the number of Syrian refugees worldwide, advocates said stripping them of legal status could encourage countries hosting more Syrians to force them to return.

"With mounting pressure on Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey to return, the US government's termination of temporary protected status for Syrians would send a particularly dangerous signal that could impact far larger numbers of Syrians at serious risk of forced return," said Bill Frelick, director of Human Rights Watch's refugee program.

Turkey is host to three million Syrian refugees, and UNHCR had registered two million Syrians in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon as of January 2018.

This story was reported by Reuters.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Syrians with temporary status in the US await Trump decision
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today