January 29, 2018

Kaine, Cardin Lead Letter Urging Trump Administration To Extend TPS Status For Syria

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), and SFRC Ranking Member Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), led a group of Senators urging Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen to extend and re-designate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Syria which is due to expire in March. The Senators highlighted a travel advisory the State Department issued earlier this month declaring that “no part of Syria is safe from violence,” and recent comments from the Administration depicting ongoing violence and brutality as reasons the Administration should continue to protect Syrians seeking refuge in the United States.

In addition to Kaine and Cardin, the letter was signed by Senators Jack Reed (D-RI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) , Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and Kamala Harris (D-CA).

“Given the turmoil in Syria, including killings, attacks against civilians, lack of medical care, and food insecurity, returning TPS holders is akin to a death sentence.  To ensure vulnerable populations like Syrians are shielded from peril, TPS for Syrians must not be terminated,” wrote the Senators.

Earlier this month, Kaine co-sponsored the Safe Environment from Countries Under Repression and in Emergency (SECURE) Act to protect people who were displaced by dangerous conditions in their home countries, including Syria, and came to live in the United States under TPS. The legislation would give them the opportunity to gain permanent residency in the United States. 

The full text of the letter is available here and below: 

January 29, 2018

The Honorable Rex Tillerson                                   The Honorable Kirstjen Nielsen

Secretary of State                                                      Secretary of Homeland Security

U.S. Department of State                                         U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Washington, DC 20520                                            Washington, DC  20528

 

Dear Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Nielsen:

            We write to urge you to extend and re-designate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Syria which is due to expire in March of this year. 

            Syria received a TPS designation in 2012 “due to the violent conflict and the deteriorating humanitarian crisis” that is ongoing in the country.  There are currently 6,916 Syrians that benefit from TPS with 5,800 expected to re-register.[1]  Their protection is set to expire on March 31, pending a decision to renew or terminate the status by the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) due by January 30.

            DHS last renewed the designation in 2016 because the reasons for the original TPS designation had been sustained or further deteriorated.  Based on the State Department’s January 10, 2018 Travel Advisory[2] declaring that “no part of Syria is safe from violence” and recent comments by this Administration, to include Secretary Tillerson’s Syria Strategy speech on January 17[3] and Ambassador Haley’s remarks about Asad’s ongoing use of chemical weapons on January 23[4], we feel strongly that the justification for extension and re-designation has only strengthened. 

            According to the United Nations, over 400,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict since 2011 and millions more injured and displaced.[5]  The American Relief Coalition for Syria, a coalition of 13 Syrian-American relief organizations, stated that forcing TPS holders to return to Syria would be “unthinkable.”  In addition to the rampant violence, the humanitarian situation in Syria and in the surrounding countries is catastrophic, with over half of the Syrian population displaced and at least 13.5 million Syrians in desperate need of humanitarian support.

            The State Department Human Rights Report released in 2017 stated, “The Asad government reportedly continued to use indiscriminate and deadly force against civilians, conducting air and ground-based military assaults on cities, residential areas, and civilian infrastructure.  Attacks reported against schools, hospitals, mosques, churches, synagogues, and houses were common throughout the country.”[6]  The January 2018 travel advisory also added, “Kidnappings, the use of chemical warfare, shelling, and aerial bombardment have significantly raised the risk of death or serious injury.  The destruction of infrastructure, housing, medical facilities, schools, and power and water utilities has also increased hardships inside the country.”  In the last year since the re-designation, over 700,000 Syrians have registered as refugees and at least 10,000 additional civilians were reportedly killed as the conflict rages on.  These alarming numbers are even more serious when considering that the UN and other NGOs have reported a funding gap of at least 50 percent and continue to face extreme difficulty accessing vulnerable populations to provide life-saving assistance. 

            We would also note that in early December last year, the Department of Defense stated that 2,000 U.S. troops are deployed in Syria in the fight against ISIS.[7]  It would be unthinkable to return civilians to an active war zone while we consider our military campaign unfinished.  

            Again, we strongly urge you to extend and re-designate TPS for Syria because the state of war continues and conditions in the country pose a serious threat to their personal safety.  Given the turmoil in Syria, including killings, attacks against civilians, lack of medical care, and food insecurity, returning TPS holders is akin to a death sentence.  To ensure vulnerable populations like Syrians are shielded from peril, TPS for Syrians must not be terminated.

                                                                        Sincerely,

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[1] CRS Report, January 17, 2018: “Temporary Protected Status: Overview and Current Issues.”

[2] State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs: “Syria Travel Advisory” Updated January 2018

[3] Remarks on the Way Forward for the United States Regarding Syria; Secretary Tillerson at the Hoover Institute, January 17, 2018

[4] Remarks at a UN Security Council Meeting on Chemical Weapons Use in Syria; U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley on January 23, 2018

[5] Foreign Policy, April 22, 2016: “U.N. Envoy Revises Syria Death Toll to 400,000

[6] State Department Report: Annual Country Report on Human Rights in Syria

[7] Department of Defense Press Release, December 6, 2017: “Pentagon Announces Troop Levels in Iraq, Syria