- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Trump administration said Wednesday it will fully renew special humanitarian protections for Syrians caught in the U.S. during the height of that country’s civil war, but won’t open the window to anyone who came after 2016.

The decision marks the first full embrace of the Temporary Protected Status program by the administration, countering complaints of immigrant-rights activists who accused President Trump and his lieutenants of trying to end the humanitarian protections.

Still, activists said Mr. Trump should have been more generous and expanded the window to new Syrians who’ve managed to reach the U.S. since 2016.

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The TPS decision rests with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who granted a full 18-month extension — the longest allowed under the law — to Syrians who were in the U.S. as of August 2016, and are unable to return home because of unrest.

“It is clear that the conditions upon which Syria’s designation was based continue to exist, therefore an extension is warranted under the statute,” she said.

The Obama administration first granted Syria TPS protections in 2012, and updated it in 2016, allowing anyone who’d managed to arrive by then to register.

Nearly 7,000 Syrians are currently protected, and 5,800 of them are expected to re-register.

TPS grants foreigners in the country on temporary visas or even those here illegally tentative legal status and work permits, allowing them to hold jobs and join American society without fear of being sent home.

The status is supposed to last as long as the natural disaster or other disruption back home makes their return difficult for their home countries.

Immigrant-rights groups said Ms. Nielsen was right to renew the protection, but should have updated the window to allow those who came between 2016 and now a chance to stay.

“It is beyond cruel to ship mothers, fathers, and children to a country engaged in the seventh year of a civil war defined by brutality and torture,” said Church World Service, a refugee advocacy group. “The Syrians who arrived since August 1, 2016 are no less vulnerable to harm if returned than the families who arrived before then and are protected by TPS.”

Rasha Ajalyaqeen, a Syrian immigrant, said his 92-year-old mother is in the U.S. on a temporary visa, and she’ll have to head home because of the decision.

“We don’t have any other family members there,” he said. “We are in a very difficult situation, and I would hope that the administration would think we deserved a bit more. It feels right now like we’ve been deserted by everyone.”

Ms. Nielsen did not give a reason for why she didn’t expand the window of eligibility.

Still, activists had feared the administration wouldn’t renew the TPS designation at all.

Ms. Nielsen earlier this month set a final 18-month deadline for hundreds of thousands of TPS holders from El Salvador to leave. Many of them have been in the U.S. for nearly two decades, following a hurricane.

Last year the Trump administration announced similar decisions for tens of thousands of TPS holders from Nicaragua and Haiti. A decision on Honduras looms in a few months.

The administration says Haiti, Nicaragua and El Salvador have recovered from their disasters and are already taking back regular deportees from the U.S., so they can handle their TPS holders as well.

Both Haiti and El Salvador had begged for the U.S. to let their people remain here longer. Both countries derive a large portion of their economies from remittances sent back home by their citizens working outside their borders. In the case of Haiti, close to 30 percent of its gross domestic product comes from remittances.

Homeland Security did grant a full 18-month renewal last year to South Sudan, covering about 70 people, though that decision was not seen as a major test.

All told, some 437,000 people were protected under TPS as of late last year.

Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill have argued that TPS holders should be given a pathway to citizenship. They say long-time TPS holders have been able to put down roots and many have had children, so sending them home would force families to choose between moving or splitting up.

Enforcement advocates say creating a pathway would go against the purpose of the program, which is supposed to be temporary relief to allow countries to recover, not an alternative immigration program.

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