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Biden protects Palestinian immigrants in the U.S. from deportation, citing Israel-Hamas war

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President Biden on Wednesday issued an executive order instructing federal immigration officials to refrain from deporting most Palestinian immigrants in the U.S., saying the months-long war in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas has made it too dangerous to send deportees there.

The move, which Democratic lawmakers in Congress had demanded last year, is expected to shield several thousand Palestinians living in the U.S. from deportation, an administration official told CBS News. 

In his order, Mr. Biden said the "humanitarian conditions in the Palestinian territories, and primarily Gaza, have significantly deteriorated" since the terrorist attacks by Hamas militants on Oct. 7, and Israel's military response, which has claimed the lives of thousands of Palestinians.

"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," Mr. Biden wrote.

Militants affiliated with Hamas, which has governed the Gaza strip since 2007, killed more than 1,200 people in Israel and abducted hundreds during the October attacks, according to the Israeli government. More than 28,000 people have been killed in Gaza since Israel launched its air and land offensive there, according to the local Hamas-controlled health ministry. CBS News has not independently verified these numbers. The Gaza Health Ministry does not differentiate between the deaths of civilians and fighters.

Mr. Biden issued the directive using a little-known presidential program known as Deferred Enforced Departure, which also offers beneficiaries temporary work permits. It's a program derived from the president's power to conduct foreign policy that has been used by Republican and Democratic presidents alike.

The deportation relief for Palestinians, slated to last for 18 months, won't apply to those who are not already in the U.S., and certain individuals, such as those convicted of serious crimes or deemed to be public safety threats. Those who return to the Palestinian territories will also be ineligible for the program.

Jake Sullivan, Mr. Biden's national security adviser, said the move will "provide protections for most Palestinians in the United States."

DED is one of the ways administrations can protect immigrant groups from deportation without congressional action. The Biden administration has used another, more well-known policy called Temporary Protected Status to offer deportation protections and work permits to hundreds of thousands of migrants from crisis-stricken countries like Afghanistan, Cameroon, Haiti, Sudan, Ukraine and Venezuela. 

Democrats praised Mr. Biden's action.

"We applaud this step and hope to see further efforts from the Administration to ensure that diplomacy, peace, and security are prioritized in the Middle East," Democratic Congresswomen Pramila Jayapal and Jan Schakowsky said in a joint statement.

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