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Advocates, Lawmakers Urge Protections for Palestinian Immigrants

Palestinians who fled their houses due to Israeli airstrikes gather Oct. 23, 2023, to receive food offered by volunteers at a U.N.-run school where they have taken taken refuge in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip. (Photo: OSV News/Mahmoud al-Masri, Reuters)

WASHINGTON — In the midst of the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, a Catholic immigration group is joining its voice with Democratic lawmakers urging President Joe Biden to allow Palestinians in the United States to stay here during the conflict.

The Catholic Legal Immigration Network, known as CLINIC, is also asking that Palestinians in Gaza be provided with access to work permits through U.S. programs for those whose homelands are affected by conflicts. 

A Nov. 13 statement by CLINIC said that because of the “extreme level of destruction, humanitarian crisis, and loss of civilian life in the region, we call on the Biden administration to do all in its power to protect those displaced by this intense wave of violence.” 

The group joined others in urging the administration to designate Temporary Protected Status for Palestine and Deferred Enforced Departure for Palestinians currently in the U.S. 

“Our hearts are unspeakably heavy watching this violence unfold,” said Anna Marie Gallagher, CLINIC’s executive director. “We firmly condemn and mourn the brutal attacks by Hamas on Israeli citizens and Israel’s killing of over 10,000 Palestinian civilians in Gaza. 

“As Catholics,” she added, “we believe all human life is precious, and we pray fervently for peace. As an organization focused on promoting the dignity and protecting the rights of immigrants, we call on the administration to take every action to protect those who have fled for their lives.” 

She said Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforcement Departure for Palestinians would ensure that Palestinian civilians residing in the United States may remain here in safety amid the extreme violence ongoing in the Palestinian territories.

The group’s request echoes what more than 100 Democratic lawmakers asked of the Biden administration in a Nov. 8 letter. 

“In light of 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.

They also stressed that humanitarian protections would only be available to Palestinians already in the U.S., not those in the war zone or refugees in other countries. It was not clear how many Palestinians in the U.S. would be given this protection. 

According to U.N. figures, about two-thirds of Gaza’s 2.3 million population are internally displaced due to the ongoing war in the region. 

Currently, more than 1.6 million people have been displaced in Gaza, and health officials there say more than 11,500 have been killed. Israeli officials say 1,200 people were killed in the Hamas terrorist attack Oct. 7 and 239 people are still held hostage in Gaza.

The plea from Democratic lawmakers was led by Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin and Reps. Pramila Jayapal of Washington and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois.

It comes on the heels of comments from some Republican presidential candidates, including former President Donald Trump, who have called for immigration restrictions on people coming to the U.S. from Gaza. 

In early November, Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Montana, and 10 other Republicans introduced a bill to remove Palestinians from the U.S. on security grounds and to bar the entry of those holding passports issued by the Palestinian Authority. 

The bill has been criticized by civil rights and immigrant advocates and by some Democrats in Congress.

The Biden administration has not announced any plans to resettle Palestinian refugees displaced by the ongoing conflict in Gaza and  Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has indicated that U.S. policy right now is focused on Palestinians being able to stay in their homeland.