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Almost 70 Democrats call for opening pathways to Palestinian refugees

A group of nearly 70 Democrats are urging Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to consider opening pathways for Palestinian refugees looking to escape the violence in Gaza.

In a letter to Blinken and Mayorkas sent Thursday, 69 Democratic senators and representatives voiced support for granting priority-2 designation for Palestinians who are impacted by the fighting in Gaza and are relatives of either U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.

A priority-2 designation gives people special access to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program based on their circumstances and need for resettlement.

“Since the outbreak of the conflict in Gaza, many congressional offices have received distressing requests for assistance from constituents desperately seeking to reunite with their loved ones,” the letter stated.

“We appreciate the steps that the Biden Administration has taken to evacuate American citizens from Gaza,” the letter continued. “However, without pathways for Americans to petition for their relatives in Gaza, countless families with strong ties to our nation remain stranded in life-threatening conditions.”

The letter was led by Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Reps. Greg Casar (D-Texas), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.)

“By granting a P-2 designation for refugee processing for certain Palestinians, the United States will be giving hope to Americans with relatives in Gaza who have strong ties to our nation but remain stranded in life-threatening conditions,” Durbin wrote in a statement. “The time has come for the United States to lead in this manner.” 

More than 37,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since early October, while more than 85,000 have been wounded, per the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Meanwhile, an estimated 1.7 million people have been displaced in Gaza, which separately faces a “full-blown famine” in the northern part of the region, according to the United Nations.

The war in Gaza has lasted more than eight months since Hamas’s attack against southern Israel left more than 1,200 people dead and 250 others in captivity.

The White House was reportedly considering admitting some Palestinians with U.S.-based families to the U.S. as refugees. The move, which would offer a relatively small number of people the opportunity to leave Gaza, would mark a shift for the U.S.’s long-standing refugee program.

Since its inception in 1980, the program has not resettled Palestinians in the U.S. in large numbers. Of the more than 400,000 refugees resettled by the U.S. in the last 10 years, fewer than 600 were Palestinian, CBS News reported in April.

The State Department is working with Egypt and Israel to facilitate a safe passage out of Gaza for U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents and their immediate families. The department has also helped more than 1,800 people to leave Gaza through the Rafah crossing and into Egypt, an agency spokesperson told The Hill.

and has assisted more than 1,800 of these individuals to leave Gaza through the Rafah crossing into Egypt, an agency spokesperson told The Hill. 

Earlier this year, President Biden sent a memorandum to Blinken and Mayorkas, directing them to defer for 18 months the removal of certain Palestinians currently living in the U.S. in the wake of the conflict.

The lawmakers noted Palestinian refugees would need to demonstrate their eligibility, complete an interview with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, provide biometric data and pass the required medical examples and security screening.

The Democrats added the refugee program is a “valuable tool” for the U.S. to help de-escalate conflicts abroad and bolster regional stability.

A Homeland Security spokesperson told The Hill the agency responds to congressional inquiries “directly via official channels.”

A State Department spokesperson separately said the agency is concerned over the famine that has hit northern Gaza and may have reached southern Gaza in recent weeks.

The agency called for conditions to “freely and safely distribute aid effectively within Gaza,” which includes protection and deconfliction “mechanisms” to ensure the safety of humanitarian workers, per the spokesperson.

Source: The Hill

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