By Ted Hesson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A group of Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday urged U.S. President Joe Biden to allow Palestinian tourists, students and workers in the United States to remain in light of the conflict in the Gaza Strip and unrest and violence in the West Bank.
In a letter to Biden, more than 100 Democrats led by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin called on Biden to grant residents of Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories deportation relief and access to work permits through U.S. programs for people whose homelands are affected by conflicts, natural disasters or other extraordinary circumstances.
"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," the lawmakers wrote.
The humanitarian protections would only be available to Palestinians already in the U.S., not those in the war zone or refugees in other countries. It was not clear how many Palestinians in the U.S. would be covered.
Around two-thirds of Gaza's 2.3 million population are internally displaced due to the fighting, according to U.N. figures.
The lawmakers called on Biden to use the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) programs to provide the relief. Biden has granted TPS to hundreds of thousands of people since taking office in 2021, including Venezuelans and Haitians.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Democratic pressure on Biden comes as some Republican presidential candidates, including former President Donald Trump, have backed immigration restrictions against people coming from Gaza.
Last week, Republican Representative Ryan Zinke and 10 other Republicans introduced a bill to expel Palestinians from the U.S. on security grounds and bar entry of people holding passports issued by the Palestinian Authority, a governing body set up under the Oslo interim peace accords 30 years ago.
Some Democrats, civil rights and immigrant advocates criticized the bill, with Democratic Representative Bill Pascrell calling it "absolutely despicable."
(Reporting by Ted Hesson in Washington; Additional reporting by Rami Ayyub in Washington; Editing by Mary Milliken and Aurora Ellis)