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Biden considers allowing some Palestinians from Gaza to come to the U.S. as refugees

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Biden's administration is considering its options for letting Palestinian refugees into the United States. That comes as Israel continues its war against Hamas in Gaza, and the United States has warned Israel to protect Palestinian civilians. An observer of the U.S. deliberations says any move by President Biden is likely to be narrowly drawn. Aaron Reichlin-Melnick is with the American Immigration Council, which advocates for immigrant rights.

AARON REICHLIN-MELNICK: It appears that the Biden administration is considering a policy that might apply only to those who are family members of U.S. citizens, or potentially family members of other lawful permanent residents in the United States, so this is a very narrow group of people.

INSKEEP: In other words, the U.S. would let in people who have some connection already to the U.S. To be let in as refugees, people normally have to show they are being politically persecuted, and that leads to an awkward question that I put to Reichlin-Melnick.

Would this be a little awkward for President Biden, to be a supporter of Israel and also accepting refugees from Gaza on the basis that they're politically persecuted?

REICHLIN-MELNICK: There is an open question as to who the persecution could come from. It is not a requirement for refugee status that you be persecuted specifically by a nation state. A persecution by armed groups can at times qualify for protection, so theoretically, some individuals could be granted refugee status due to threats from Hamas. It's a murky issue, let's say.

INSKEEP: Assuming that people can get out of Gaza and apply for this status, could it come fairly quickly?

REICHLIN-MELNICK: Probably not. In order to pass a number of background checks, they have to get screened by a variety of different agencies run through dozens of government databases, and this is a lengthy process that can take anywhere from eight months to two to three years.

INSKEEP: Isn't there a history of letting people in while that process plays out?

REICHLIN-MELNICK: There is some history of that, but it is largely past history or has occurred in emergency circumstances. The most recent example of that is the parole program that the Biden administration created for Afghans who are coming here, so we evacuated around 70,000 people directly from Kabul to the United States in the immediate days after the fall of the Taliban. That process doesn't currently exist for people leaving Gaza, and those people came not through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, but through Humanitarian Parole, which is a much more temporary form of status that forces everyone here to then apply for asylum and go through a process inside the United States to get permanent permission to remain.

INSKEEP: When we discuss all the ways that this is a relatively narrow program, if it happens at all, does the president really have that much power to help people if he chooses to do so?

REICHLIN-MELNICK: The easiest pathway that the Biden administration would have is Humanitarian Parole, an immigration authority that the executive branch has already used for people fleeing the war in Ukraine, for Afghans who fled Kabul and for people from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela, but parole is currently a political hot potato. The Biden administration has used it somewhat more extensively than previous presidents in the last few decades, and there have been a number of lawsuits over the use of that policy, and congressional Republicans have sought hard to strip the executive of their ability to do it. So it would be almost certainly subject to legal challenges in a way that would be harder for someone to bring a challenge against the refugee program, which is enshrined in U.S. law.

INSKEEP: Any chance that Congress could act and change the law to allow this?

REICHLIN-MELNICK: Congress has in the past created new pathways for individuals who come through programs like Humanitarian Parole, or has expanded the Refugee Admissions Program, but getting anything through Congress right now has been difficult. The 118th Congress is the least productive in modern history, and immigration in particular has been extraordinarily controversial.

INSKEEP: Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council. Thanks so much.

REICHLIN-MELNICK: Thank you very much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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