The Need for Congressional Oversight: The administration’s failure to redesignate TPS for Syria

Last Updated

July 27, 2018

Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, was established by Congress through the Immigration Act of 1990.[1] Congress enacted TPS based on the United States’ belief in the principle of nonrefoulment, meaning that the United States will not return people to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened.[2] Since the law was passed, Republican and Democratic administrations alike have designated and extended TPS for countries to provide relief to people who cannot return home safely due to natural disaster, war, or other extraordinary circumstances.[3] TPS permits people to work—allowing them to support their families and contribute to the U.S. economy—and be protected from deportation.[4]

Ten countries held TPS when the current administration assumed office.[5] As of July 2018, the administration has terminated TPS for the Sudan,[6] Nicaragua,[7] El Salvador, Haiti, [8] Honduras,[9] and Nepal[10] and failed to redesignate TPS for Syria,[11] Yemen,[12] and Somalia.[13] These terminations, along with the termination of Deferred Enforced Departure for Liberia,[14] affect over 300,000 people and their over 273,200 U.S. citizen children.[15]


Failure to Redesignate TPS for Syria

TPS for Syria was first designated in 2012 following the outbreak of violence in early 2011.[16] Since the original designation, TPS for Syria has continuously been extended in 18-month increments and redesignated at each decision date, protecting over 9,000 lives.[17] Redesignation moves forward the continuous residence date, allowing more recently arrived Syrians to be protected from the war and humanitarian crisis.[18] The Trump administration failed to redesignate in March 2018, breaking with every previous decision.[19] Prior to the decision date, over 50 national security and foreign policy experts submitted a letter to the administration, calling for the extension and redesignation of TPS for Syria.[20] This call for the redesignation and extension of TPS was also made by over a dozen Syrian-American relief organizations with an on-the-ground presence in Syria.[21] Given the horrifying humanitarian crisis in Syria, the administration’s decision to break with the status quo and not use its authority to protect as many lives as possible raises serious questions.


Syria Failure to Redesignate Context

On May 11, 2018, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) Democratic staff released a memo with findings that the administration had ignored advice of experts in decisions to terminate TPS for Haiti, El Salvador, and Honduras, risking lives and U.S. national security:

SFRC Democratic Staff determined that then-Secretary Tillerson’s recommendation that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should terminate the TPS designations for El Salvador, Haiti, and Honduras was the result of an overtly political process. That process deliberately disregarded the counsel and expertise of officials at the State Department and the U.S. Embassies in all three countries, which uniformly argued for an extension of the TPS designations. SFRC Democratic Staff also determined that the White House Domestic Policy Council sought repeatedly to influence the decision-making processes at the State Department and DHS in order to ensure a pre-determined outcome: the termination of TPS designations for all three countries.

Moreover, in issuing his recommendation to terminate the TPS designations for El Salvador, Haiti and Honduras, then-Secretary Tillerson ignored a body of evidence about the negative consequences for U.S. national security and risks to the physical safety of TPS beneficiaries and the U.S.-citizen children that may accompany them to their country of origin.


Next Steps for Accountability

A swift and thorough investigation as to why the administration broke with past practice and failed to redesignate TPS for Syria is called for, especially in light of the recent findings by the SFRC Democratic staff on other TPS decisions.

Members of Congress must hold the administration accountable by:


  1. Requesting that the Government Accountability Office investigate the failure to redesignate TPS for Syria.
  2. Requesting that the SFRC Democratic staff expand the scope of their TPS investigation to include the failure to redesignate Syria.
  3. Requesting that SFRC Chairman Senator Corker and other SFRC Republican members join the Democratic staff in the investigation.


Jill H. Wilson, Temporary Protected Status: Overview and Current Issues, Congressional Research Service (Jan. 17, 2018),

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] INA § 244 (a).

Jill H. Wilson, Temporary Protected Status: Overview and Current Issues, Congressional Research Service (Jan. 17, 2018),

82 Fed. Reg. 47228 (Oct. 11, 2017),

82 Fed. Reg. 59636 (Dec. 15, 2017),

83 Fed. Reg. 2648 (Jan. 18, 2018),

Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen Announcement on Temporary Protected Status for Honduras, Department of Homeland Security (May 4, 2018),

83 Fed. Reg. 23705 (May 22, 2018),

83 Fed. Reg. 9329 (March 5, 2018),

Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen Announcement on Temporary Protected Status for Yemen, (July 5, 2018),

Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen Announcement on Temporary Protected Status for Somalia, (July 19, 2018),

While not a TPS designation, the Administration also terminated Deferred Enforced Departure (another form of executive discretion to delay the deportation of nationals from a country due to extraordinary circumstances) for Liberia. Liberians have held either TPS or DED since 1991 through two civil wars and the more recent Ebola crisis. 83 Fed. Reg. 13767 (March 30, 2018),

Robert Warren and Donald Kerwin, A Statistical and Demographic Profile of the US Temporary Protected Status Populations from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti, Journal on Migration and Human Security, Vol. 5 No. 3 (2017),   

77 Fed. Reg. 19026 (March 29, 2012),

77 Fed. Reg. 19026 (March 29, 2012), 78 Fed. Reg. 36223 (June 17, 2013), 80 Fed. Reg. 245 (Jan. 5, 2015), 81 Fed. Reg. 50533 (Aug. 1, 2016),  /2016-17933/extension-and-redesignation-of-syria-for-temporary-protected-status. 

See eg. 81 Fed. Reg. 50533 (Aug. 1, 2016),

83 Fed. Reg. 9329 (March 5, 2018),

Trump might force thousands to return to danger in Syria. More than 50 experts say that’s a terrible idea, Medium (Jan. 26, 2018),

Syrian-American Humanitarian Organizations Demand Protection for Syrians in the US, (Jan. 9, 2018),