The Trump government has announced it will continue to grant temporary protected status to 6,900 Syrians on US soil, while at same time allowing only Syrians who "have continuously resided in the United States since August 1, 2016, and have been continuously physically present in the United States since October 1, 2016" to apply for new TPS.
Following weeks of deliberations between the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department and the White House, the decision was announced on Wednesday by DHS secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
“After carefully considering conditions on the ground, I have determined that it is necessary to extend the TPS designation for Syria,” said Ms Nielsen. “It is clear that the conditions upon which Syria’s designation was based continue to exist, therefore an extension is warranted under the statute. We will continue to determine each country’s TPS status on a country-by-country basis.”
The deadline for making the decision was Wednesday, 60 days before the current TPS expires on March 31. But the debate within the administration over the new applicants delayed the decision according to sources monitoring the issue.
"While the extension is the right decision given the facts on the ground and the intent behind the existence of TPS, a lack of re-designation will leave some 2,000 Syrians in the lurch – with nowhere to go and no way to remain here lawfully", Muna Jondy, a legal consultant for Americans for a Free Syria, told The National.
Syria earned a TPS designation in 2012 after the war broke out, and its status was routinely renewed under the Obama administration. Today, it grants a temporary stay for 6,900 individuals due to the “violent conflict and the deteriorating humanitarian crisis continuing to pose significant risk throughout Syria”.
But the TPS program has not been popular with the Trump government, which has terminated it in the case of El Salvador, Nicaragua and Haiti, affecting nearly 300,000 individuals.
For Syrians, the continuation of the war across the country means TPS recipients in many cases don't have the option to return. The United Nations has identified the number of registered Syrian refugees at five-and-a-half million since the conflict started in 2011. Additionally, the Trump government has put a cap of 45,000 for the total number of refugees to be admitted to the US in 2018, but Syria is on the new list of countries whose citizens are restricted from acquiring visas.
Activists fear the blocking of new applicants means those Syrians already in the US applying for TPS will have nowhere to go.
"They are Syrians who entered lawfully and now will either have to leave to an almost certain death or remain here unlawfully in the shadows," said Ms Jondy.