The United States, consistent with the president’s foreign policy principles, has worked with countries in the region to build pressure on Assad to end the violence. The Administration has also condemned the regime’s actions and urged the United Nations to impose harsh sanctions. To date, however, Russia and China, which have close economic ties to Syria, have blocked the full weight of the United Nations and the international diplomatic community from bearing down on Assad. And efforts to broker a ceasefire have failed as well.
Within the United States, the crisis has engendered disparate reactions by elected officials, signaling clear fault lines between Republicans and Democrats over the issue. House and Senate Democrats have focused on supporting the Obama administration’s efforts to squeeze the Assad regime using the weapons in our diplomatic arsenal.
But beyond what America does abroad, Democrats have called on the administration to protect Syrian nationals in the U.S. from being forced back into Assad’s reign of terror. Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin (IL), Patrick Leahy (VT), Dianne Feinstein (CA), Robert Menendez (NJ), Ben Cardin (MD), and Bob Casey (PA) wrote to the President requesting that the administration “take all necessary steps to ensure that Syrian nationals present in the United States are not forced to return to Syria, including the designation of Syria for temporary protected status (TPS).” TPS allows the government to designate that people from certain countries facing conflict or disaster can apply for, as its name implies, a temporary legal status within the United States. This status allows residents who otherwise cannot return to their home country the freedom to know that they will not have to violate U.S. immigration laws to stay out of harm’s way.
What is inexplicable, however, is that not one Republican in Congress has agreed to sign onto the letter, or has come out in favor of granting TPS to Syrians in the U.S. So while they push for armed intervention abroad, they refuse to stand up for preventing unnecessary and unacceptable “collateral damage” at home. Joining their Democratic counterparts and the numerous other groups who have called for the protection of Syrian nationals presently in the United States should be a no-brainer.
We can debate whether or not military intervention is an appropriate strategy for our nation’s leaders. But whether to send foreign nationals directly back in to a violent conflict should not be up for debate at all. Requiring Syrian nationals to return to Assad’s murderous ambit from the United States is to throw their fates to the wind. It is not only unwise but immoral.
Granting those Syrian nationals TPS is the only sensible option. TPS would ensure that they are not forced into a Hobson’s choice between a return to terror or a violation of U.S. immigration laws. Republicans should halt their call to arms for long enough to embrace a policy that keeps innocent civilians out of harm’s way.