Syrians seek temporary U.S. protection

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Next up, the status of Syrians living in the United States. 

In  2011 a democratic uprising in Syria and a brutal government crackdown ignited a civil war. Now eight years in, the conflict has killed more than 400,000 people. 

Meanwhile, 5 million people fled the country, seeking refuge elsewhere. Many flooded nearby countries. Others found safe haven in the United States under a system called TPS, Temporary Protected Status.

NICK EICHER, HOST: Congress created the program in 1990. 

It allows people to stay in the United States if their home country is too dangerous for them to return. 

The Trump administration has altered TPS as part of its overall reform of immigration and asylum procedures. When President Trump first took office, 10 countries had TPS designation. He tried to remove six of them. They are: El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Nepal, Sudan, and Haiti. But court challenges have kept those nations on that list. The four others are Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, and Syria.

REICHARD: Right now, a group of Syrians are concerned that their TPS designation may be in danger. They’ll learn this week whether they will be able to stay in the United States or return to an uncertain future in Syria.

Harvest Prude is WORLD’s reporter in the nation’s capital. She’s been talking to Syrians who want to keep their TPS status. She joins us now to talk about it. Good morning, Harvest!

HARVEST PRUDE, REPORTER: Good morning, Mary.

REICHARD: What makes TPS— again, that’s Temporary Protected Status—different from other parts of immigration and asylum law?

PRUDE: So, TPS is unique in that it allows the administration to look at a country’s conditions, and make a blanket decision on whether to offer people refuge. So in the case of Syria, government can look and say, “Ok, there’s massive food insecurity. There’s concerns about ongoing conflict. There’s a humanitarian crisis. Infrastructure is just abysmal. So we’re going to let Syrians stay until things improve.”

REICHARD: What benefit do Syrians in the United States under TPS get right now?

PRUDE: Well, TPS shields them from deportation, and it gives them a work permit. But a couple things that TPS does not do is it doesn’t provide a path to citizenship and it doesn’t give the recipient government or taxpayer assistance.

It’s also—as the name suggests—temporary and has to be renewed every 6, 12, or 18 months.

REICHARD: Who is affected by this decision?

PRUDE: So, there’s a group of around 7,000 Syrians that are currently protected by TPS and are hoping that it will be renewed. And I talked to someone from the American Relief Coalition for Syria. They took a survey to find out more about this group of Syrians and they found that about 95 percent of these people have bachelor degrees. Many of them work jobs like in the medical field or they teach. Some are small business owners and some are students.

REICHARD: What have you heard from TPS recipients?

PRUDE: Their big thing is that they’re very concerned about losing the status and they’re concerned about going back. And their big fear is retribution from the government for leaving Syria in the first place. So, one young man told me that the situation started with the government bombing its own people and shooting innocent civilians in response to democracy protests. And he emphasized that eight years later, that same regime of President Bashar al Assad is still in power. So here’s that concern in the words of another person I interviewed—Michael Shakur—who came over to the United States in 2015 at the age of 22. Let’s have a listen.

SHAKUR: If TPS doesn’t get renewed, that would be a very dark future, because going back to Syria would be pretty much a death sentence, if especially someone who spent time outside. There’s multiple sources of danger. If I go back, the people in control, the regime, I would be labeled as a traitor, as a western sympathizer, someone who is anti-government and as a Christian going back, I would be subject to being the prime target of extremist islamic groups. People get kidnapped, tortured, held for ransom and killed on a daily basis. It’s something that is common unfortunately there. Those would be my concerns.

REICHARD: Harvest, did you learn some of Michael’s back story, back in Syria?

PRUDE: Yes. So, he told me he was raised in a Christian family, in a predominantly Christian area in the city of Aleppo. And he explained to me a little bit of what it was like to be a Christian in Syria. So here’s Michael talking about that now.

SHAKUR: Once the life threatening events started being a part of everyday life— certain neighborhoods like mine were specifically targeted by religious Islamic extremist groups. There was a common thing where checkpoints and buses would get pulled over by groups. They would ask certain people certain questions about how well you knew the religion of Islam. For example they would ask, how many times you pray a day and if you didn’t know the answers to that, I’ve known many people that were kidnapped and held for ransom, sometimes tortured to death for things like that.

REICHARD: When will the DHS make this decision?

PRUDE: Well, DHS is supposed to issue their decision August 1st, which is 60 days before Syrians’ TPS status expires. I’ve reached out to the DHS and haven’t heard back from them. So I’m not sure what they’re thinking. And I want to note that this doesn’t mean—whatever the administration decides to do doesn’t necessarily mean that these Syrians would be deported right away. The decision could be challenged in court and they could likely be allowed to remain until litigation is settled.

REICHARD: Harvest Prude is a WORLD reporter based in Washington, D.C. Harvest will be tracking this situation to find out what happens next. Harvest, thank you!

PRUDE: You’re very welcome!


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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