By Ted Hesson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A group of Democratic lawmakers called on the U.S. president on Wednesday Joe Biden to allow Palestinian tourists, students and workers to stay in the United States in light of the conflict in Gaza and unrest and violence in the West Bank.
In a letter to Biden, more than 100 US-led Democrats commented Senator Dick Durbin called on Biden to provide residents of Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories with deportation relief and access to work permits through U.S. programs for people whose home countries are affected by conflict, natural disasters or other extraordinary circumstances.
“Given the ongoing armed conflict, Palestinians already in the United States should not be forced to return to the Palestinian territories, consistent with President Biden’s stated commitment to protecting Palestinian civilians,” the lawmakers wrote.
Humanitarian protection would only be available to Palestinians already in the United States, but not to those in war zones or refugees in other countries. It was not clear how many Palestinians would be covered in the United States.
According to UN figures, around two thirds of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents are internally displaced due to the fighting.
Lawmakers called on Biden to use the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) programs to provide relief. Biden has provided TPS to hundreds of thousands of people since taking office in 2021, including Venezuelans and Haitians.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Democratic pressure on Biden comes as some Republican presidential candidates, including former President Donald Trump, have supported immigration restrictions against people from Gaza.
Last week, Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke and 10 other Republicans introduced a bill that would expel Palestinians from the U.S. for security reasons and ban people with passports from the Palestinian Authority, a government body created 30 years ago as part of the Oslo Interim Peace Accords entry should be prohibited.
Some Democrats, civil rights activists and immigration advocates criticized the bill, with Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell calling it “absolutely despicable.”
(Reporting by Ted Hesson in Washington; Additional reporting by Rami Ayyub in Washington; Editing by Mary Milliken and Aurora Ellis)