March 12, 2018

Kaine Leads Letter To Trump Administration Asking Why Syrian Threatened By Violence Were Denied Opportunity To Apply For Protected Status

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), led a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen requesting details on the Administration’s decision to deny additional Syrians the opportunity to apply for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) despite numerous statements from senior officials that no part of Syria is safe for return. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) joined Kaine in the letter.

“It strikes us as cruel and contradictory that the administration could on the one hand rightly describe Syria as ‘hell on Earth’ and yet on the other, deny that Syrians arriving in the United States after August 1, 2016 meet the standard for TPS designation,” the Senators wrote. “As such, we are requesting a written response providing detail on why August 1, 2016 was chosen as a cutoff date and what led to the Administration’s decision to prevent additional Syrians from applying for TPS despite the numerous statements from senior officials that no part of Syria is safe for return.”

Kaine has been a leading voice in Congress on the importance of protecting TPS recipients who are living in the U.S. after being displaced by dangerous conditions in their home countries. In January, Kaine urged the Trump Administration to extend and re-designate TPS for Syria. In January, Kaine also co-sponsored the Safe Environment from Countries Under Repression and in Emergency (SECURE) Act to protect TPS recipients and give them the opportunity to gain permanent residency in the United States. 

The full text of the letter can be found here and below:

March 12, 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:

            Thank you for your reply to our letter regarding Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Syrians in the United States and for extending the TPS designation for Syria for 18 additional months.  However, we remain deeply concerned with the Administration’s decision not to re-designate Syria for TPS thereby denying protections for the thousands of Syrians that arrived in the United States after August 1, 2016.  By extending protections for the approximately 6,900 TPS holders who came to the U.S. prior to August 1, 2016, the Administration is sending a clear signal that it recognizes that Syria is not safe for returns.  In such a context, the failure to provide temporary protection for those arriving after this date simply makes no sense. 

            The Administration has made dozens of statements following August 1, 2016 describing the spate of horrors that civilians face inside Syria.  The State Department’s January 10, 2018 Travel Advisory declared that “no part of Syria is safe from violence.”  As recently as this month, over 500 civilians were killed by the Assad regime’s bombardment of civilian areas in East Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus.  On February 23, 2018 Ambassador Nikki Haley said before the UN, “none of us should be so naïve as to accept that the Assad regime can continue indiscriminately bombing schools, hospitals, and homes under the fake excuse of ‘counterterrorism.’ Assad’s bombing must stop.”  She added that, “we look to the Assad regime’s backers, especially Russia and Iran, to address what the Secretary-General rightly called a hell on Earth.”  Later that day on February 23, 2018 President Trump called the situation in Syria a “humanitarian disgrace.”  Since those statements, bombings against civilians has continued unabated despite the calls for ceasefires.

            It strikes us as cruel and contradictory that the administration could on the one hand rightly describe Syria as “hell on Earth” and yet on the other, deny that Syrians arriving in the United States after August 1, 2016 meet the standard for TPS designation.  As such, we are requesting a written response providing detail on why August 1, 2016 was chosen as a cutoff date and what led to the Administration’s decision to prevent additional Syrians from applying for TPS despite the numerous statements from senior officials that no part of Syria is safe for return. 

Sincerely,

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