Cities Urge Trump Administration Not to Force Syrians Back to a Warzone

By Bitta Mostofi, Acting Commissioner of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, and Seemi Choudry, Director of the Mayor’s Office of New Americans for the City of Chicago

Meet Sarah[1], a Syrian New Yorker. Sarah came to the United States from Syria on a student visa and attended graduate school, eventually obtaining two advanced degrees. By the time she graduated in 2016, conditions in Syria were too dangerous for her to return. So, she applied for Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, and built a life in New York City, which she considers her “home away from home.” A natural teacher, she is intelligent, warm, and generous, committed to her profession and volunteering for a variety of Syrian women and children’s causes. But today, she is living in a state of uncertainty, a cruel limbo. Even identifying her may endanger her family still in Syria. Now she is unsure if she will be forced to leave her adopted city and return to a country still engulfed in war.

Sarah is not alone. Nearly 7,000 Syrians have received TPS since 2012, when the Department of Homeland Security designated the protection for Syrians residing in the United States because of a violent armed conflict in Syria. TPS enables Syrian nationals already in the United States at the time the war broke out to stay here and work lawfully until Syria is safe enough for them to return. Our cities, New York and Chicago, are home to some of the United States’ largest Syrian communities, and are part of Cities for Action, a national coalition of over 175 U.S. cities advocating for smart, inclusive immigration policies. As leaders of our cities’ immigrant affairs offices, we are responsible for our immigrant residents’ safety and well-being. In light of clear evidence that Syrians still cannot return safely, we call on the Administration to re-designate Syria for TPS.

Syria was first designated for TPS after the Syrian government brutally suppressed protestors, sparking a civil war. Since then, government forces and mercenaries have targeted civilians with forced conscription, arbitrary detentions, disappearances, torture, bombings, and executions. According to a 2017 U.S. State Department human rights report, the regime has also attacked children and humanitarian workers and used barrel bombs and chemical weapons on civilians. Due to persistently dire conditions, Syria was re-designated for TPS in 2013, 2015, and 2016. Today, humanitarian conditions in Syria remain bleak. The war has devastated the country’s health infrastructure and destroyed more than half of its hospitals.

According to the standards under federal law, Syria is a clear-cut case for TPS: a country in which extraordinary conditions prevent its nationals’ safe return. But recent terminations of TPS for countries like El Salvador and Haiti show that the Trump Administration prioritizes ideology over these standards, and over the safety of our residents. Failure to extend Syrian TPS would demonstrate a willingness to put people in mortal danger to satisfy a xenophobic agenda. We urge the Trump Administration and the Department of Homeland Security to extend TPS for Syrians seeking safety in our country, and not send nearly 7,000 people back to a warzone.

[1] Pseudonym to protect the contributor’s identity

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