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Nearly 7,000 Syrians Are Waiting To See If Their Protected Status Will Be Renewed


The Trump administration has been scaling back a program that lets people live in the U.S. during crises in their home countries. It is called Temporary Protected Status, TPS. Already it's being ended for Central Americans and for Haitians after natural disasters. Now nearly 7,000 Syrians fear they could be next. The administration is expected to decide within a week whether to renew TPS for them. NPR's Deborah Amos reports.


HIBA AWAD: Hello. Oh, OK. Just come up one block.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: I meet Hiba Awad in downtown Manhattan on her lunch hour, a Syrian working in the high-tech sector. She's a programmer at GrubHub, an online food ordering service. Her interest in programming comes from her dad.

AWAD: He worked as a programmer for many, many years, from the '70s. So he's kind of a pioneer in that way in Syria. That's how I got started.

AMOS: To get started in New York, she got a master's degree from MIT. Her status here is set, but she was worried about her parents in Syria. When they came for her graduation in 2013, she urged them to apply for TPS. And they got it. They were in danger, Awad says, as Christians targeted by extremists. And they were against the Syrian regime.

AWAD: So as Christians and also anti-regime, they felt targeted by both sides.

AMOS: For them, was TPS, Temporary Protective Status (ph) - was that a lifeline for them?

AWAD: Yeah, TPS was wonderful for them.

AMOS: TPS was routinely renewed under the Obama administration. Now the Trump administration has to decide. It's an agonizing wait for Awad and her parents, who don't want to be identified in case they have to go back to Syria.

AWAD: We're worried. Yeah, we talk about it often. Just last night at dinner we were talking about it. Yeah, we're always like, what are we going to do? And we think, OK, let's - we'll deal with it when it - if it happens. But it's scary. And - yeah.

AMOS: Scary especially after the Trump administration ended protections for hundreds of thousands from Central America and Haiti. Could Syrians be next?

DORIS MEISSNER: It's so hard to imagine that this particular TPS would end given the underlying reasons for it.

AMOS: That's Doris Meissner, a top immigration official under the Clinton administration now with the Migration Policy Institute in Washington. She points out that Syrians living in the U.S. were granted protection because of a civil war. It's still an ongoing conflict. But with this administration, she says, there are no guarantees.

MEISSNER: I will be cautious about it because this administration is doing things very differently.

AMOS: Syrian-American activists have begun to push for renewal, says Muna Jondy, a legal consultant for Americans for a Free Syria.

MUNA JONDY: This administration doesn't seem to like Syrians, you know, judging by the way that Syrians have been dealt with in all immigration matters. So that's, I think, a cause for concern.

AMOS: Concern, she says, because many Syrians have nowhere else to go. And on that point Mark Krikorian agrees.

MARK KRIKORIAN: In this case the - you know, it would be a matter of potentially sending people back to the civil war, which is not something I think we're going to be doing.

AMOS: Krikorian heads the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington. He opposes most immigration and supports ending TPS because he says it's been abused. For some, temporary has meant decades. But for Syrians, he says, the Trump administration knows they still need protection.

KRIKORIAN: I wouldn't bet my house that they're going to renew TPS but, you know, I might bet my car. I mean, I'm pretty confident. I'd bet more than lunch.

AMOS: It's a bet that Syrians who now live and work in the U.S. under TPS hope is right. Deborah Amos, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deborah Amos covers the Middle East for NPR News. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.