By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - The U.S. will not offer immigration protections to new Syrian applicants seeking protected status, but will allow those already in the country since 2016 to remain, the Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS) announced Wednesday.
Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen "determined that the ongoing armed conflict and extraordinary conditions that support Syria’s designation" under the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program "continue to exist", the department said in a statement.
“It is clear that the conditions upon which Syria’s designation was based continue to exist, therefore an extension is warranted under the statute," Nielsen continued.
The roughly 7,000 Syrians who already have the status will be able to re-register for an 18-month extension, but a DHS official confirmed to Anadolu Agency that no new applications will be accepted.
The official said other avenues continue to exist for newly arrived Syrians to seek refugee status.
In order to be eligible for the year-and-a-half extension, Syrians must have been continuously residing in the U.S. since Aug. 1, 2016 and been continuously present since Oct. 1, 2016, the department said.
That would make newer arrivals ineligible for the extension.
Syrians were first granted protected status in 2012 amid an ongoing conflict in the country that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and wrought mass devastation throughout wide expanses of Syria. The protections were last extended in August 2016.
The Trump administration previously moved to end TPS protections for other groups -- including Nicaraguans, Haitians and Salvadorans -- amid President Donald Trump's effort to overhaul the U.S.'s immigration system.
Lia Lindsey, Oxfam America's Senior Humanitarian Policy Advisor, slammed the administration's most recent TPS decision, calling it "a wrong" that lawmakers must address immediately.
“We made a commitment to offer safety to these people in a time of crisis. In return, they have become vital assets to our communities and country," she said in a statement. "Syria, without a doubt, continues to be unsafe and unstable. Moreover, the Trump administration’s decision means that many Syrians who are already here in the US will not be able to apply for TPS status."