Palestinians living in US will be shielded from deportation, the White House says


WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House on Wednesday announced that Palestinians living in the U.S. will be shielded from deportation as the Israel-Hamas war continues, citing “significantly deteriorated” conditions on the ground in Gaza.

Palestinians will be covered under what’s known as “deferred enforced departure,” an authority used at a president’s discretion. The directive signed by President Joe Biden effectively allows Palestinian immigrants who would otherwise have to leave the United States to stay without the threat of deportation. That protection will last 18 months, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said, and will give Palestinians who qualify a “temporary safe haven.”

“While I remain focused on improving the humanitarian situation, many civilians remain in danger,” Biden wrote in the memorandum that accompanied the announcement.

Biden’s decision comes after more than 100 Democratic lawmakers called on the White House to use either deferred enforced departure or a similar authority, called temporary protected status, to ensure that Palestinians currently in the United States would not be forced to return to dangerous conditions in Gaza.

“More than 28,000 Palestinians — including thousands of women and children — have been killed in the last four months in Gaza,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who led the effort from congressional Democrats, said Wednesday. “Today’s decision by the Administration protects Palestinians in the United States from being forced to return to these clearly dangerous and deadly conditions.”

Palestinians who have been convicted of felonies or “otherwise deemed to pose a public safety threat” do not qualify, Sullivan said. Those who decide to voluntarily return home would also lose any protections from deportation.

The president is facing increasing backlash from Arab Americans and progressives for his full-throated support of Israel since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, although Biden has insisted he is trying to minimize civilian casualties.

More than 27,000 people, mostly women and minors, have been killed in Gaza since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory. Hamas killed more than 1,200 people and kidnapped about 250 more, mostly civilians, in its attack.

It’s not immediately clear how many Palestinians would be affected by the deferred departure designation, but the number would be small. According to the November letter from lawmakers, there were roughly 7,241 nonimmigrant visas issued to Palestinians in 2022, the most recent year for which data was available, though that isn’t an exact correlation to the number of people who would be eligible.

The designation is not a specific immigration status, but those covered under the policy aren’t subject to deportation. Eligibility requirements are based on terms set by Biden. Others right now included under the same policy are people from Liberia and Hong Kong.

Associated Press writer Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.

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