Homeland Security granted a new temporary amnesty Monday to more than 8,000 Syrians living in the U.S. right now, saying they can remain for up to 18 months longer no matter what their legal status.
Secretary Jeh Johnson issued “temporary protected status” to Syrians, saying that if they are in the U.S. as of Monday and continue to reside here permanently, they can apply for work permits and other documents to remain and live in the U.S. without fear of being ousted.
His order applies to some 5,800 Syrians who were granted status under the original 2012 TPS program, and 2,500 new arrivals who don’t have a more permanent status here.
“Syria’s lengthy civil conflict has resulted in high levels of food insecurity, limited access to water and medical care, and massive destruction of Syria’s infrastructure. Attacks against civilians, the use of chemical weapons and irregular warfare tactics, as well as forced conscription and use of child soldiers have intensified the humanitarian crisis,” Mr. Johnson said in announcing the new program.
Those eligible for TPS include any Syrian illegal immigrants who have managed to sneak into or remain in the U.S. beyond their visa expirations over the last four years.
TPS is intended to be humanitarian relief for those whose home countries face a massive natural disaster or war that makes returning both dangerous for the individual, and a potential burden for the home country’s government.
Some 13 countries are currently listed.
But the Syrian listing comes at a time of heightened concern over foreign fighters who may have trained with the Islamic State and who are searching for ways to conduct attacks in Europe and the U.S.
Those fears have already beset the U.S. refugee program, where President Obama has pledged to resettle some 10,000 Syrians in the U.S. in fiscal year 2016.
The refugee program far overshadows what authorities expect from the new TPS designation. The 2,500 Syrians expected to receive temporary status is only slightly more than the 2,443 Syrian refugees accepted for resettlement in the U.S. in the month of July alone.
All told, some 7,654 Syrians have been resettled so far this fiscal year. And with two months left in the fiscal year, Mr. Obama is easily on track to meet his 10,000 goal.
Those with serious criminal records or who authorities are able to determine to be national security risks are supposed to be rejected for TPS.
An in-person interview is not listed as one of the requirements for being approved for TPS, though officials can request an interview if someone lacks a birth certificate, passport or other primary document establishing their identity.
Proving identity and establishing someone’s criminal history are some of the biggest hurdles for Syrian refugees, according to American security officials, who say that the U.S. lacks access to Syrian systems that are usually used to verify someone’s history and check his or her criminal record.
Applications for TPS can be submitted at any time, though they won’t begin to be approved until October. The window for applying runs through Jan. 30.
The protected status runs 18 months, through March 31, 2018.