Arab Americans want Biden to allow tens of thousands of Gazans to come to US

Community leaders ask administration officials to allow 50,000 Palestinians to come to US under humanitarian parole programme

Activists from the group United We Dream march in support of immigration and Gaza on Capitol Hill in Washington. AP
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Arab-American leaders on Thursday asked President Joe Biden's administration to allow tens of thousands of Gazans with relatives in the US to come to the country amid the ongoing war with Israel.

During a meeting with senior White House officials, Arab-American community leaders asked the Biden administration to allow 50,000 Palestinians from Gaza to enter the US through an immigration provision called humanitarian parole.

Under the programme, American citizens are able to sponsor visas for their relatives to come and live in the US. Citizens of other countries experiencing conflict or unrest, including Ukraine and Afghanistan, have been allowed to apply to similar programmes.

“It should have been done already,” Abed Ayoub, national executive director of the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee, who was at the meeting, told The National.

“But we have to push, and it's going to take a lot of advocacy and a lot of pressure to make it happen.”

The meeting on Thursday was a follow-up to a move on Wednesday, when the Biden administration announced that citizens of Palestine would be eligible for Deferred Enforced Departure, shielding more than 7,000 people from deportation for the next 18 months.

A parole programme, however, is likely to face severe resistance from Mr Biden's Republican rivals, who are likely to bring up issues of vetting and security.

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Many Republicans have conflated assistance to Palestinians with supporting Hamas, the group that attacked Israel on October 7 and killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli authorities.

More than 28,000 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, have been killed in Gaza, according to local health officials.

Most of the enclave's 2.3 million residents have been displaced to the south near the Egyptian border, where they face dire humanitarian conditions.

Israel says it is planning a major military operation in Rafah, despite US warnings that such a move would greatly endanger the civilians sheltering there.

In November, Ryan Zinke, a Republican representative from Montana, introduced a bill that would revoke visas and refugee status from Palestinians.

Also in November, more than 100 members of Congress wrote a letter to the Biden administration, urging it to allow people from the Palestinian territories to apply for DED or Temporary Protection Status.

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Another person who was at the meeting described how the figure of 50,000 was reached.

“We came up with this number because we said, there are 10,000 Palestinian Americans from Gaza who live in America, and then every person would bring five relatives so that gets us to 50,000,” the person said.

The person added that they expect another meeting on the issue.

The move comes amid growing criticism both within and outside the Arab-American community of the Biden administration's continued support of Israel in its military campaign in Gaza, now in its fifth month.

Mr Biden, who is running for re-election, is facing intense pressure from Arab Americans, many of whom are actively campaigning against him after showing overwhelming support during his first presidential campaign.

The request for parole would allow Palestinian Americans to be able to get their relatives out of Gaza or Egypt and bring them to the US.

So far, Palestinian Americans have only been able to get their direct relatives, such as parents or children, out of Gaza with the help of the State Department, but not siblings or more distant relatives.

Updated: February 16, 2024, 4:07 AM