Syria TPS Decision Provides Needed Relief, But Not Nearly Enough

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) welcomes reports that the Trump administration has decided to renew Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for nearly 6,000 Syrians living in the United States, while expressing dismay and consternation that this provision will not cover Syrians arriving after August 1, 2016.

In the lead up to this decision, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had the option of re-designating Syria for TPS, rather than merely renewing. A re-designation would have allowed more recent Syrian arrivals to apply for the status. In previous extensions, TPS for Syrian nationals has been re-designated as well as renewed.

It is difficult to imagine a country that more directly fits the criteria for re-designation than Syria. It is in the midst of an ongoing civil war that has generated the world’s largest contemporary refugee crisis and taken the lives of at least 400,000 people. The new administration’s refusal to take the step of re-designation is impossible to reconcile with DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s admission that “the conditions upon which Syria’s designation was based continue to exist.”

The failure to re-designate Syria also provides further disturbing evidence that the administration grounds its TPS decisions in xenophobia and bias, rather than the individual country assessments that Congress intended when it created the TPS program in 1990.

In November, the Trump administration ended TPS for 59,000 Haitian nationals, despite the country’s ongoing natural disaster recovery and recent disease outbreaks. In early January, they likewise announced the end of TPS for nearly 200,000 immigrants from El Salvador, in the midst of extreme violence and other major social disruptions in that country. The NAACP has filed a lawsuit charging that the TPS decision for Haiti was racially motivated, citing abundant evidence of the administration’s prejudice against TPS holders.

As with these other TPS decisions, DHS’s refusal to re-designate Syria did not occur in a vacuum. President Trump campaigned on a pledge to institute a “Muslim Ban,” and his rhetoric on both the campaign trail and in office has made Syrian refugees a frequent target of fear-mongering.

Further, last week marked the one-year anniversary of the administration’s failed attempt to implement a discriminatory ban on refugees and travelers from Muslim-majority countries, including Syria. Despite being struck down by multiple courts, the Trump administration continues to impose new versions of the order on Syrian nationals, including new restrictions announced Monday that will make it harder for refugees from Syria and ten other countries to reach safety in the United States.

The administration’s political and biased use of TPS bodes ill for immigrant communities whose futures depend on DHS renewal decisions later this year. These include Nepal in April, Yemen in July, and Somalia in November. All of these countries are sites of ongoing recovery efforts from recent natural disasters or devastating armed conflicts to which the U.S. government has directly contributed.

UUSC urges the administration to honor the humanitarian purpose of the TPS program, rather than wield it as a nativist, political cudgel. In the meantime, Congress should act to pass permanent legislative solutions for long-term TPS holders, who are all members of our shared community.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading includes a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss. This week we are featuring the amazing work our partners are doing on climate justice, protecting refugees, and improving working conditions in the food industry!

Fear stalks migrants huddled along Hungary’s border, Karen McVeigh, The Guardian, March 18, 2017

photo of refugees behind a fence

Asylum-seekers, many who are Syrian refugees and children fleeing extreme violence and war, face additional hurdles in Hungary, which include a 108-mile electric fence and the construction of detention camps along the border. The president of Hungary, János Áder, approved the construction of these detention camps and is implementing a new policy that allows officers to deport any asylum-seekers back to Serbia, where many have already been stuck since last year.

Anti-refugee sentiment in Hungary is on the rise due to politicians like Áder spreading hateful rhetoric and fear, which has recently erupted into violence. There are allegations and investigations about “widespread and systematic violence by police after reporting it had treated 106 migrants, including 22 minors, for injuries caused by beatings, dog bites, and pepper spraying over the last year.”

Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC), a UUSC partner, has also documented similar reports of violence. A lawyer spoke to those living in an open camp and reported that people are afraid of and preparing for these new and inhumane policies, and HHC is calling for an investigation into these incidences.

Read more about our work with HHC and the Syrian refugee crisis here.

Catherine Flowers brings civil rights to the fight for environmental justice, Grist, March 2017

“Catherine is a shining example of the power individuals have to make a measurable difference by educating, advocating, and acting on environmental issues.” – Al Gore

Grist, a reader-supported publication focused on climate, sustainability, and social justice, recently announced their top 50 “Fixers,” – innovators who are making headway on climate-related issues. Catherine Flowers, director and founder of Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise Community Development Corporation (ACRE), a UUSC partner, was chosen as a Fixer by Al Gore. She mentions that her work was inspired by her parents, who fought for civil rights. “Even today, people share stories about my parents’ acts of kindness or help, and I feel it’s my duty to carry on their work.”

Flowers is continuing their legacy by advocating for poor and minority residents and working on water and sanitation issues in Lowndes County, Alabama. She is known as “the Erin Brokovich of Sewage.”

Click here to read more about UUSC’s work with ACRE!

Big Strike Brewing Against Trump: Coalition of More Than 300,000 Food Workers to Join May Day Showdown, Sarah Lazare, AlterNet, March 22, 2017

Over 300,000 food workers – farmers, cooks, servers, manufacturers, and more – are joining a nationwide strike on May 1, 2017, which is International Worker’s Day. This strike was issued by Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA), a UUSC partner, and Service Employees International Union United Service Workers West (SEIU USWW). Other organizations, unions, and movements are also participating, including Movimiento Cosecha, National Domestic Workers Alliance, and Black Livers Matter Movement.

Jose Oliva, Co-Director of FCWA understands that these types of strikes are risky, especially for food workers who are already vulnerable and underpaid. Oliva says, “The reality is that if folks don’t take the risk, we know what the consequences will be…The only thing we can do is to demonstrate our power through the economic reality we live in.” There will undoubtedly be some retaliation and FCWA and others are starting a strike fund and organizing legal support in preparation.

Learn more about our longstanding work with FCWA and worker’s rights here.