Syrians who entered the United States after August 2016 will no longer be protected by a humanitarian program called Temporary Protected Status, the Trump administration announced Wednesday. Syrian nationals who entered prior to that date and already have TPS will be able to extend their protections.
The news is, in this way, a departure from the recent trend of the Trump administration, which has canceled TPS protections for people from four countries in the last four months: El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan. But by denying TPS to new recipients and newcomers from Syria (Trump Muslim ban or no), DHS is showing just how much contempt it has for the program.
TPS, stretching back to 1990, allows the Department of Homeland Security to provide short-term protections to nationals from countries in the middle of “armed conflict, natural disaster, or other extraordinary temporary conditions.” The designation, which gives people who enroll protection from deportation and access to work permits, is available in six-, 12-, and 18-month increments. When the designation comes up for review, DHS is required to consult with the State Department, the Department of Defense, and the National Security Council, according to Royce Murray, policy director at the American Immigration Council, a pro-immigrant think tank. DHS is then tasked with assessing whether conditions on the ground are safe enough for nationals from that given country to return.
If they’d read even the State Department’s travel advisory on Syria, Murray points out, they’d see that the US government considers no part of Syria safe. Those who travel to Syria, the US government warns, should first draw up a will and discuss funeral plans with loved ones. “Kidnappings, the use of chemical warfare, shelling, and aerial bombardment have significantly raised the risk of death or serious injury,” the State Department website warns. “The destruction of infrastructure, housing, medical facilities, schools, and power and water utilities has also increased hardships inside the country.”
Those who will no longer be protected must find other forms of relief or make plans to return to Syria. While some 6,000 Syrians currently have TPS, it’s not clear how many will be ineligible for protections going forward.
“With country conditions not in dispute, there is no basis for making any such distinction to leave some Syrians with protections and some without,” Murray said. “It’s hard to think through the rationale.”
The Trump administration has aired contradictory opinions about the countries it’s kicked off out of TPS in recent months. Syrian nationals are banned from entering the country under the Trump administration’s travel ban. And yet the Trump administration considers Syria safe enough for its nationals to return.
“Making America Safe is my number one priority,” Trump tweeted in September when he released an updated version of his travel ban. “We will not admit those into our country we cannot safely vet.”
Trump is fond, too, of decrying the bloodthirsty transnational gang MS-13, which was founded in Los Angeles but is active throughout Central America. El Salvador has the highest homicide rate in the Western Hemisphere. And yet in early January the Trump administration deemed El Salvador safe enough for the 262,000 Salvadoran nationals who are protected by TPS to return.
By systematically canceling TPS designations and slashing refugee admissions amid increasing rates of asylum denials, the Trump administration is revealing its real priority: to dismantle humanitarian programs that offer shelter to the world’s most vulnerable. Incidentally, revoking TPS for hundreds of thousands of people will also have another effect: It’ll create new classes of undocumented people who could be arrested, detained (a boon for privately run detention centers), and deported.
In the case of Syrian nationals though, it does raise a question: Where would they be deported to?