Senators press to allow Syrians to stay in US amid violence in home country

March 2, 2012: Anti-Syrian regime protesters hold up banners during a demonstration in Idlib, Syria.

March 2, 2012: Anti-Syrian regime protesters hold up banners during a demonstration in Idlib, Syria.  (AP)

Several Democratic senators are calling on the Obama administration to allow Syrians who are already in the United States to stay, at least temporarily, out of concern it would be "too dangerous" for them to return home. 

The senators want President Obama to invoke what's known as "temporary protected status" for thousands of Syrians in the U.S. The designation typically is given to foreign nationals whose home countries are beset by war or natural disaster and who could face harm should they return. 

The senators argued that Syrians in the U.S. are in just that kind of predicament, as Syrian leader Bashar Assad's regime sustains its bloody crackdown on protesters across the country. 

"It is obviously too dangerous for Syrian nationals to return to Syria," the senators wrote in a letter to President Obama. 

Arab advocacy groups have been calling for the federal government to grant the status for Syrians in the U.S. 

The designation, however, is controversial as Washington tends to repeatedly extend "temporary" status. Critics claim the status can become semi-permanent. The government currently grants "TPS" to people from El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Haiti, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan. 

The senators, though, argued that this status would in fact be temporary and would not affect that many people. They said about 8,400 visitor visas were issued to Syrians in fiscal 2010, and fewer than 1,000 nonimmigrants from the country are in the U.S. 

"Granting TPS to such a small population will create a minimal disruption for our country, but forcing these individuals to return to a war zone could have dire consequences for them," they wrote. "Forcing Syrian nationals to return to Syria in the midst of ongoing violence would undermine U.S. leadership and would be inconsistent with America's traditional role as a safe haven for those fleeing repression." 

The letter was signed by Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Robert Menendez, D-N.J.; Ben Cardin, D-Md.; and Bob Casey, D-Pa.