Rethinking TPS for the Syrians: Let's Make It a Freeze, Not a Bonanza

By David North, March 26, 2012

The Department of Homeland Security is about to create Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Syrians in this country, legally and illegally, because of the near-civil war in that nation.

Now is the time to re-think our reaction to such situations.

The continuing problem, as Mark Krikorian and others have written, is that TPS routinely means forever. Hundreds of thousands of people from seven nations have been given a sometimes decade-or-longer de facto amnesty as a result of civil strife, or a big wind, or an earthquake in their home country.

These aliens, most here illegally, were in this country through blind luck when the big blow struck, and hence now can work legally. If they entered, equally illegally, a little later, they would not have this benefit.

In short, TPS creates totally artificial benefits for groups of aliens — and we are probably about to see this happen again with Syrians.

TPS unfortunately is a clumsy tool -- a coal shovel or a bludgeon where a scalpel is needed.

We do not yet know the rules for this round of TPS, but in the past they have allowed all citizens of the country in question who are in the United States on a given date to stay legally in the country and to obtain work permits. Those who are here in a legal nonimmigrant status, students for instance, get to choose whether they are better off in that status or in TPS. This is usually accompanied by a decision not to deport anyone back to the troubled country.

Here's a counter proposal for use now with Syrians and later with other populations:

Objective. To make sure that no one from the country in question now in the United States is either damaged by our governmental action because of the situation in the homeland or can profit from it. The central idea is to freeze the immigration status of all Syrians currently in this country.

Actions to Be Taken:

  1. There will be no deportations to the country in question, temporarily, a boon to the illegals from that nation.

  2. Those in nonimmigrant status whose status is about to expire will have it temporarily frozen, a boon to them.

  3. Some additional access to the workplace will be permitted for nonimmigrants legally in the country who have limited access to the labor market currently, i.e., foreign students, as was done for Libyan students during that civil war -- a temporary measure that was, in fact, subsequently terminated by our government. This highly useful precedent has received virtually no public attention except for a CIS blog of mine.

  4. No additional work permits will be issued to those who already have some permission to work here, except as noted for students.

  5. We will not change our admissions rules about Syrians, as we did for Cubans during the early years of that revolution. Why ease the pressure on the Syrian government by allowing those unhappy with it to flee to the United States?

Consequences. Thus we would force no one to return to Syria, we would give Syrian students in the United States a mechanism to stay in universities despite the diminution of homeland financial support, and we would freeze the status of all other Syrian aliens in the United States, without creating — as TPS does — long-term, windfall benefits and without doing anything with our immigration policy that would help Bashar al-Assad as we previously helped Fidel Castro.