Photo Credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90
President Joe Biden in Tel Aviv on Oct. 18, 2023.

Palestinians in the U.S. illegally or on expiring visas can now remain in the country for at least 18 months without fear of deportation under a new order issued last week by President Joe Biden. The presidential memorandum authorized a policy known as Deferred Enforced Departure (“DED”) to be applied to Palestinians who were in the U.S. as of February 14, 2024. The memo cited “significantly deteriorated” humanitarian conditions “in the Palestinian territories and primarily Gaza,” and declared that “it is in the foreign policy interest of the United States to defer for 18 months the removal of any Palestinian,” subject to certain conditions.

In his memo, Biden also instructed Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to provide employment authorization to DED-eligible beneficiaries and to relax employment rules for Palestinian students here on F-1 visas. Just one day earlier, Mayorkas was impeached by the House of Representatives in a razor-thin vote. The two counts against him include failing to follow federal immigration laws in (mis)handling the migrant surge and falsely testifying to Congress that the border was secure.


The DED will reportedly cover an estimated 6,000 Palestinians currently in the U.S. “This grant of deferred enforced departure would provide protections for most Palestinians in the United States, with certain exceptions,” White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement. Those convicted of two misdemeanors or one felony, and those who “have engaged in or are associated with terrorist activity” or whose “presence poses a threat to public safety or foreign relations” do not qualify for protection from deportation under the directive. A return visit to Gaza or Palestinian areas would also void their eligibility.

The exclusion of Palestinians who do not meet the criteria depends, of course, on enforcement by DHS, which does not necessarily inspire confidence. According to a new Pew survey, 80% of Americans believe the government is doing a bad job (45% say a “very bad” job) of managing the situation at the border, and the daily influx of migrants into America’s cities shows no signs of slowing. Immigration is now the number one issue of concern among U.S. voters in this election year, a January Harris poll showed.

The October 7 Hamas massacre sparked a new angle in the debate about who should have safe haven in the U.S. Immediately following the attacks on Israel, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) sent a letter to Mayorkas co-signed by several other senators urging the expulsion of terror supporters, including jihadi-advocating foreign students who participate in pro-intifada protests on American soil, a call echoed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other erstwhile GOP presidential candidates, as well as current frontrunner Donald Trump.

In November, more than 100 Democratic lawmakers, led by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), signed a letter urging Biden to shield Palestinians in the U.S. from deportation, either through DED or the more widely used designation known as Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Both are designed as stopgap humanitarian measures when a war, natural disaster, pandemic, or other cataclysmic event makes a country unsafe for its citizens to return to. DED is invoked by presidential order while TPS is a determination by DHS. Notably, while both designations prevent the deportation of eligible aliens, they do not change the beneficiaries’ immigration status.

The Democrats’ letter read in part: “In light of ongoing armed conflict, Palestinians already in the United States should not be forced to return to the Palestinian territories, consistent with President Biden’s stated commitment to protecting Palestinian civilians.”

No Republicans signed that letter, and three GOP Senators – J.D. Vance (R-OH), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Mike Lee (R-UT) – responded by sending their own letter to the president advising against the implementation of special immigration protections for Palestinians. “We ask that you remember your oath to protect the lives of American citizens and not import a population of potentially radicalized individuals into the United States,” Vance said in a statement.

Not to be outdone, HIAS, the Jewish immigration advocacy group, along with seven other liberal Jewish organizations, petitioned the Biden Administration at that time to extend protected immigration status to Israelis caught in the U.S. during the Israel-Hamas war. That measure has not been taken.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association issued a statement applauding the White House’s announcement. Most Jewish and pro-Israel groups have had no official comment.

“The Biden Administration’s DED grant to Palestinians illegally here in the country is not in the best interest of the United States,” said Rabbi Yaakov Klass, presidium chair of Rabbinical Alliance of America (and Torah Editor The Jewish Press). “From our point of view, their loyalty to America is in question, and there is a possible danger to our citizenry from these unvetted individuals who might be agents of the Hamas and Fatah terrorist groups. Beside the danger they pose to American security interests, they pose a specific proven danger to our Jewish community due their hatred of the Jewish people, bred from infancy, as we witness the antisemitic violence on our college campuses and attacks and threats to our Jewish communal infrastructure.

“Some of us are old enough to remember Palestinians in Patterson, N.J., celebrating the destruction and mayhem of Sept. 11, as everyday Americans mourned that same destruction and the resultant loss of life. However, those were people legally here in the United States.”


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Ziona Greenwald, a contributing editor to The Jewish Press, is a freelance writer and editor and the author of two children's books, “Kalman's Big Questions” and “Tzippi Inside/Out.” She lives with her family in Jerusalem.