Skip to content Skip to footer

69 Democrats Urge Biden to Grant Refugee Status to Palestinians With Family in US

Palestinians are carved out of the 1951 Refugee Convention, and very few Palestinians have ever been let into the US.

Palestinians, who fled their homes due to the Israeli attacks on Gaza, try to go on their daily lives under hard conditions in Deir Al Balah, Gaza, on June 19, 2024.

A group of nearly 70 Democrats is calling on the Biden administration to move to accept Palestinians fleeing Israel’s genocide in Gaza as refugees if they have family living in the U.S., an action praised by advocates who say that it is a small but crucial step toward saving Palestinian lives.

In a letter sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Democrats say that they have been receiving desperate requests from constituents seeking to reunite with family members who are trapped in Gaza with no pathway to come to the U.S.

“We write to strongly support a Priority-2 (P-2) designation under the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for certain Palestinians,” the Democrats wrote. “Specifically, we urge you to designate certain categories of Palestinians and their eligible family members, particularly close relatives of American citizens and U.S. lawful permanent residents, for access to the USRAP.”

Historically, very few Palestinians have been granted refugee status to enter the U.S. Over the past decade, only 600 Palestinians were let in, in part because the UN’s 1951 Refugee Convention carves out Palestinians from the protections afforded to other classes of refugees. The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) doesn’t help with resettlement, but rather provides aid.

Now, more than ever, Palestinians are in dire need of assistance. The UN estimates that at least 1.7 million Palestinians have been forcibly displaced within Gaza since October, and countless testimonies from Gaza have established that nowhere in the region is safe from Israel’s campaign of extermination, with at least 37,000 Palestinians killed so far and thousands more presumed dead under the rubble. Palestinians in the West Bank are also facing unprecedented violence under the Israeli regime, UN officials have warned.

Despite this, vanishingly few Palestinians have been granted entry amid Israel’s genocide of Gaza. In fiscal year 2024, which began in October of 2023, only 16 Palestinians have been resettled in the U.S., the Democrats point out. In fiscal year 2023, which saw an escalation of Israeli violence against Palestinians in comparison to previous years, only 56 refugees were allowed in.

It is currently extremely difficult logistically for Palestinians to escape Gaza at all, due to Israel’s shutdown of pedestrian crossings out of Gaza and bordering countries’ refusal to take in Palestinians, in part out of fears that Israel would never allow them back in.

These trepidations are not unfounded; for over 75 years, Israel has been forcibly displacing Palestinians from their lands and denying their right to return, with extensive help from the U.S. As a result, an estimated 1.7 million Palestinians in Gaza and over 870,000 Palestinians in the West Bank were already refugees before October 7, displaced by one or more of the many rounds of ethnic cleansing and devastation wrought by Israel. Survivors of these horrific incursions are often refugees several times over.

In April, CBS reported documents showing that the Biden administration was considering granting refugee status to Palestinians with family members who are permanent residents or U.S. citizens in an extremely harsh process that would require Palestinians to pass a number of eligibility screenings. However, the administration has not taken this plan public, and it’s unclear whether or not it will ever be implemented.

The Democrats’ letter was led by Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) in the Senate and Representatives Greg Casar (D-Texas), Debbie Dingell (D-Michigan) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington) in the House. It was signed by many prominent progressive lawmakers like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Representatives Jamaal Bowman (D-New York), Cori Bush (D-Missouri) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan).

“Palestinian families are turning to crowdfunding on websites like GoFundMe because they are so desperate to escape bombings, famine, and disease in Gaza,” said Casar in a statement. “We must establish a P-2 designation for Palestinians and secure a lasting ceasefire so Palestinians who stay in Gaza can live without fear of persecution and violence.”

The letter effort was sponsored by a number of pro-Palestine and other advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), IfNotNow Movement, U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, and more.

“Only an immediate and lasting ceasefire will put an end to the suffering and atrocities committed against the people of Gaza,” said Yasmine Taeb, the legislative and political director for MPower Change Action Fund, one of the letter sponsors. “The U.S. has an obligation to welcome refugees fleeing violence and persecution, particularly due to conditions that have been created with U.S. weapons and funding.”

Like the many Palestinian refugees before them, it is unclear if Palestinians who flee Gaza will ever be allowed to return; top Israeli officials like National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir have been openly calling for Israeli settlement of Gaza and the “departure” of Palestinians — a call to action that invokes the devastation of the 1948 Nakba, in which Zionist militias violently expelled more than 700,000 Palestinians from their homes.

Countdown is on: We have 3 days to raise $31,000

Truthout has launched a necessary fundraising campaign to support our work. Can you support us right now?

Each day, our team is reporting deeply on complex political issues: revealing wrongdoing in our so-called justice system, tracking global attacks on human rights, unmasking the money behind right-wing movements, and more. Your tax-deductible donation at this time is critical, allowing us to do this core journalistic work.

As we face increasing political scrutiny and censorship for our reporting, Truthout relies heavily on individual donations at this time. Please give today if you can.