SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- With Syria at the brink of civil war, the U.S.Department of Homeland Security announced it will be giving illegal immigrants from Syria a break.
They will be able to apply for Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, essentially a temporary visa that lets them live and work in the United States legally.
Several Syrian activist groups had pushed the U.S. government for weeks to take action, given the increased bloodshed back home. These groups argued the matter is literally life or death.
Zaher Sahloul is president of the 1,500-member Syrian American Medical Society, one of several groups that pushed for the move.
“We know for sure that some of these individuals, who are currently in the United States and who have expired visas, if they had to return to Syria, some of them would face detention, torture and killing,” Sahloul said. He said he personally knows many Syrians currently on expired visas whose lives will now be spared.
Approximately 8,000 Syrians across the country will be eligible to apply for TPS.
Usually, the initial period under TPS lasts a year and a half. After that, Homeland Security could keep renewing the status for six, 12 or 18 months. Or it could end the program.
The Homeland Security agency that handles immigration benefits, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, declined to comment.
The overall Syrian-American population is around 650,000. It is not yet known how soon U.S. CIS will start taking applications.