Biden signs memo shielding thousands of Palestinians in US from deportation

National security adviser says move will provide ‘temporary safe haven’ amid Israel-Hamas war in Gaza; US condemns Jerusalem home demolition, urges probe in West Bank killing

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on a $95 billion Ukraine Israel aid package being debated in Congress, in the White House, February 13, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on a $95 billion Ukraine Israel aid package being debated in Congress, in the White House, February 13, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

US President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed a memo using his executive powers to shield thousands of Palestinians in the US from deportation for the next 18 months, citing “significantly deteriorated” conditions on the ground in Gaza amid the Israel-Hamas war.

Some 6,000 Palestinians are eligible for the reprieve under an immigration program called Deferred Enforced Departure.

“While I remain focused on improving the humanitarian situation, many civilians remain in danger; therefore, I am directing the deferral of removal of certain Palestinians who are present in the United States,” Biden stated in the memo.

“In light of the ongoing conflict and humanitarian needs on the ground, President Biden signed a memorandum directing the deferral of removal of certain Palestinians who are present in the United States, giving them a temporary safe haven,” US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement explaining the executive order.

“This grant of deferred enforced departure would provide protections for most Palestinians in the United States, with certain exceptions,” including convicted felons, others deemed public safety threats, Sullivan addedd, saying those who voluntarily return to the West Bank or Gaza would lose such protections.

The move was likely to be welcomed by Arab and Muslim American community leaders who have fumed over Biden’s support for Israel since the Hamas-led October 7 terror onslaught, with many pledging not to vote for the president in re-election.

But the memo also sharpened the difference between Biden and presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, who has called for deporting Palestinians who express support for Hamas. A Republican lawmaker issued legislation — which has no chance of passing — that would revoke the visas of Palestinians and prevent them from receiving asylum status in the US.

Illustrative: Palestinians wait at the Rafah border crossing in Egypt after being evacuated from the Gaza Strip, on December 26, 2023. (AFP)

Biden’s decision came after more than 100 Democratic lawmakers called on the White House to use either deferred enforced departure or a similar authority, called temporary protected status, to ensure that Palestinians currently in the United States would not be forced to return to dangerous conditions in Gaza.

It’s not immediately clear how many Palestinians would be affected by the deferred departure designation, but the number would be small. According to the November letter from lawmakers, there were roughly 7,241 nonimmigrant visas issued to Palestinians in 2022, the most recent year for which data was available, though that isn’t an exact correlation to the number of people who would be eligible.

The designation is not a specific immigration status, but those covered under the policy aren’t subject to deportation. Eligibility requirements are based on terms set by Biden. Others right now included under the same policy are people from Liberia and Hong Kong.

US slams Jerusalem demolition, urges probe in West Bank killing

Also Wednesday, the US lambasted Israel for demolishing the home of a Palestinian activist in East Jerusalem.

Israel demolished the home of Fakhri Abu Diab in Silwan earlier in the day, claiming it did not have the necessary permits, though, such building approvals for Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank are overwhelmingly rare.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs Andrew Miller visited the home just last month in an apparent show of support for Abu Diab, who is a campaigner against demolitions.

Asked about the demolition during a press briefing, US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said the detrimental impact of the move was not just felt by Abu Diab’s family but also on his “entire community who live in fear that their homes may be next.”

‘Miller noted that Abu Diab’s family had lived in the home demolished for generations and that part of the building’s structure dates back before 1967 when Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in the Six Day War.

“These acts obstruct efforts to advance a durable and lasting peace and security that would benefit not just Palestinians but Israelis,” Miller said.

“They damage Israel’s standing in the world, and they make it ultimately more difficult for us to accomplish all the things we’re trying to accomplish that would ultimately be in the interest of the Israeli people, and so we condemn them and will continue to urge that they not continue,” Miller said.

Abu Diab responded to the US condemnation: “I thank them, but they should have put pressure beforehand on the Israelis to prevent the demolition of my house.”

“They demolished the memory, the past and the future. They did not demolish just the ceiling or the house,” he said, standing near the rubble of his former home.

“It was an act of revenge, part of the campaign by the Israelis against the Palestinians of Jerusalem that has only grown since October 7,” he said.

Fakhri Abu Diab stands amid the rubble of his home that was demolished by Jerusalem municipality workers in the neighborhood of Silwan on February 14, 2024. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Additionally, the US said Wednesday it was “devastated” by the recent killing of Palestinian-American Mohammad Ahmad al-Khdour in the West Bank and demanded an investigation into his death.

The Washington Post reported that the 17-year-old was shot in the head by Israeli troops in Bidu near Ramallah in unclear circumstances. The IDF has yet to issue a comment on the incident.

“The United States has no greater priority than the safety and security of US citizens. We urgently call for a quick, thorough and transparent investigation, including full accountability,” read a tweet from the US Office of Palestinian Affairs.

Al-Khdour’s death expanded a growing list of incidents regarding US citizens on which the Biden administration has demanded clarifications from Israel.

Mohammad Ahmad al-Khdour (US Office of Palestinian Affairs/X)

Last month another 17-year-old by the name of Tawfic Abdel Jabbar was shot dead in the West Bank. Police said an off-duty law enforcement officer, a soldier and an Israeli settler all opened fire at Jabbar after perceiving him as a threat. The US has also demanded a probe into this incident as well.

Several Palestinian Americans have also been arrested by Israel in both the West Bank and Gaza in recent days, drawing additional comments of concern from US government officials.

Agencies and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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