The Department of Homeland Security on Thursday approved an 18-month extension for the temporary protected status for thousands of Syrian immigrants who feared they might face deportation.
Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin K. McAleenan announced the extension pursuant to the Immigration and Nationality Act that effectively protects about 7,000 Syrians from being sent back to the war ravaged country.
Temporary protected status protects and provides work authorization to immigrants from countries suffering through war or disaster who come legally to the U.S. and are expected to return to their home countries once conditions improve.
Since 2012, DHS has designated Syrian immigrants for TPS amid the country's ongoing civil conflict and the emergence of radical terror groups like the Islamic State.
With TPS status for Syrians set to expire on Sept. 30, advocates and members of Congress feared that the Trump administration might not extend the status given previous remarks from Acting Director of Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli.
According to a DHS press release, the decision to extend the TPS status for Syrians was made after a review of whether the war-tarn conditions in Syria that the original designation was based on continue to exist. McAleenan made the determination after careful consideration and recommendations resulting from an inter-agency consultation process.
In fact, the U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory in April stating that "no part of Syria is safe from violence."
Advocates warned that conditions in Syria have not improved but have only gotten worse since the civil war started in 2011 followed by the rise of the Islamic State in 2014.
They also warned that Syrian immigrants would be at risk of "conscription, relentless violence, persecution, detention, torture and death," if they were to return to Syria.
“As Syrian American organizations, we are reassured by the Administration’s decision to extend TPS, which will allow Syrians to remain safely in the United States," a statement from a coalition of Syrian American organizations reads.
The coalition is comprised of the American Relief Coalition for Syria, Americans for a Free Syria, and the Syrian American Council.
"The threat to civilians living in Syria and those returning is still very real, and we appreciate the Administration listened to our concerns and those of members of Congress who advocated for Syria TPS," the statement adds.
Many of the Syrian TPS holders came to the U.S. on student or professional visas and were then granted TPS so they wouldn't be required to return.
Although the administration extended the TPS status, that status only applies to Syrian immigrants who came to the U.S. before August 2016.
Like it did in March 2018 when the Trump administration first extended the TPS status for Syrians, DHS did not "redesignate" Syria for TPS status, a move that would have made Syrians who came to the U.S. after August 2016 eligible for TPS status.
“While the decision to extend is a correct one and will provide continued refuge for Syrians living here, as organizations made up of and representing Syrian Americans across the country, we remain gravely concerned for the Syrians in this country not protected by TPS," the coalition's statement reads.
"If Syria is unsafe for American travelers and current TPS holders, it’s also unsafe for Syrians who came to the United States more recently. We urge the Administration to take a closer look at redesignation until the country is at peace and ready to accept returning Syrians."
Syrians who are TPS holders are greatly "relieved" by the extension.
“It opens new horizons for us and allows us to feel more at peace," Nada, a TPS holder living Syracuse, New York, said in a statement. "I am an art teacher, mother to two teenagers and the breadwinner of my family. I just earned my master’s degree last year. I will create more art, exhibit more frequently and be a productive artist in my community. I am so happy."
The extension provides protection for Syrians until March 31, 2021, but TPS holders are required to renew their status before it expires. DHS will make its next decision on whether to extend or terminate TPS protection for Syrians on or before Jan. 30, 2021.