Syrian Temporary Protected Status
Next Stop: Asylum?
The fundamental premise behind Temporary Protected Status is quite simple.
If the United States is truly the leader of the free world, it has a political obligation to lend a helping help to less fortunate nations.
Especially in their moments of crisis.
Syria TPS Launched
On March 23, 2012, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that Syrians living in the U.S. would be allowed to apply for Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
The government announcement was based on the ongoing civil conflict and escalation of violence in Syria.
In her statement, Napolitano explained:
“Conditions in Syria have worsened to the point where Syrian nationals already in the United States would face serious threats to their personal safety if they were to return to their home country.”
Dr. Yahya Basha, Chairman of United for a Free Syria (UFS), added, “The TPS designation will protect thousands of Syrian nationals, who would have been otherwise obligated to endanger themselves and their families by returning to Syria.”
What Is Temporary Protected Status?
Temporary Protected Status is not a new government program.
A special humanitarian immigration program, TPS was created in 1990.
Its purpose is to provide immigrants with a temporary safe harbor while they are not capable of returning safely to their country of origin due to environmental disasters, wars, or similarly severe conditions.
When the program is used by the U.S. government, it is used as part of broader relief efforts.
Critics Attack TPS As De Facto Amnesty
Not all parties agreed on the government action.
Led by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a non-profit organization which supports immigration reduction, opponents asserted granting artificial benefits to Syrians was not the appropriate response to the emerging civil war in Syria.
Instead, CIS suggested the U.S. government should simply freeze the immigration status of all Syrians currently living in the U.S.
The CIS position is hardly surprising.
Mark Krikorian, the Center’s Director, has long argued TPS has given “Hundreds of thousands of people from seven nations . . . a sometimes decade-or-longer de facto amnesty as a result of civil strife, or a big wind, or an earthquake in their home country.”
His use of the word “amnesty” is misplaced.
Amnesty reflects an act of forgiveness for past transgressions – not an act of compassion for individuals mired in temporary human misery.
The spirit of such callous disregard for the problems of other peoples reflects the true purpose of their dissent. It’s not humanitarian.
Why Temporary Protected Status Was Granted For Syria
In early 2011, as part of a growing political awakening in the Middle East, Syrians began calling upon President Bshar al-Assad to institute democratic reforms.
Instead, crackdown by security forces
in the city of Daraa, against school children who had written anti-regime slogans on walls, took place. Protests followed. Several protesters were killed and many others were severely injured.
Within the next 10 days, protests spread to cities across Syria.
Since that time, over 9,000 civilians have been killed.
Thousands have been physically injured, and thousands more have been arbitrarily arrested and tortured while detained.
According to news reports, the uprising has taken on the feel of a full blown insurgency, with daily battles between government troops and opposition forces.
Due to the worsening situation, on February 6, 2012, the U.S. closed its embassy in Damascus, the capital of Syria, and recalled its ambassador.
Turkey, which shares a border with Syria, has set up temporary refugee camps for over 17,000 Syrians, who have fled the violence in their home country.
The numbers are growing every day.
Syrian TPS Requirements
Despite the naysayers, the pool of potentially eligible Syrians is relatively small. DHS estimates that only about 2,500 – 3,000 Syrians now living in the United States will be eligible to apply for TPS.
TPS approval is not automatic.
Syrians, like all TPS applicants, must undergo full background checks. Individuals with certain criminal convictions or suspected of being national security threats will not be granted TPS status.
June 2013 Update
The first registration period for Syrian TPS ran from March 29, 2012 through September 25, 2012.
Since all TPS designations have an 18-month limit, the program was set to expire on September 30, 2013. But on June 17, 2013, the Department of Homeland Security granted a re-designation and extension of Temporary Protected Status because Syria’s civic problems had not been resolved.
Under the original designation, Syrian refugees who arrived in the U.S. after March 29, 2012 were not allowed to seek Temporary Protected Status.
Under the re-designation, these immigrants are now able to apply for TPS benefits and protection.
The re-designation allows Syrians who have been living in the United States since June 17, 2013 to file initial, first-time applications for TPS. These must be filed between June 17, 2013 and December 16, 2013.
Meanwhile, the extension allows current TPS beneficiaries to retain their status up through March 31, 2015, but these individuals are required to submit re-registration applications
The deadline to re-register is much shorter than the deadline for those registering for the first time. Re-registration ends on August 16, 2013.
The program will be reexamined by U.S. government officials in early 2015. At that time, if Syria’s problems still persist, TPS might be re-authorized for an additional 18-month period.
Unless extended again, Temporary Protected Status for Syrians will expire on March 31, 2015.
For more information, click here: DHS Announces Re-Designation And 18-Month Extension Of Temporary Protected Status For Syria.
Political Asylum For Syrians?
In my view, as a Riverside immigration attorney, some Syrians eligible for temporary TPS benefits may also qualify for more permanent immigration benefits, like permanent residency, under asylum and refugee law.
The possibility of Syrian refugees seeking asylum has grown following the August 2013 disclosure of chemical weapons being used to cause massive civilian deaths.
To prove asylum eligibility, applicants need to show they cannot safely return to Syria due to a well-founded fear of persecution or harm related to their political opinion, nationality, religions, race, or membership in a particular social group.
- A Syrian citizen who, before arriving in the U.S., was an active member of organizations which actively opposed the current Syrian leadership
- A Syrian citizen living in the U.S., with family members living in Syria who have been killed, tortured, or imprisoned due to their opposition to the Syrian government
- A Syrian citizen who, during his or her residency in the U.S., has played an active role in protests and building opposition to the current Syrian government regime
Syrian TPS: A Humanitarian Imperative
Contrary to the dominant rhetoric of immigration politics, various aspects of immigration policy are based on humanitarian concerns.
In other words, the duty to help other countries, in their time of need, is more than a political issue. It’s part of our moral duty as the self-professed leader of the free world.
Providing TPS as well as asylum protections, when needed, is part of this duty.
By Carlos Batara, Immigration Law, Policy, And Politics