Press Release

On World Refugee Day, Welch Joins Nearly 70 Members of Congress in Letter Urging Administration to Consider Certain Palestinians Fleeing Gaza for Refugee Status 

Jun 20, 2024

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On World Refugee Day, U.S. Senator Peter Welch (D-Vt.), member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, joined U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and U.S. Representatives Greg Casar (D-TX-35), Debbie Dingell (D-MI-06), and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA-07) and 68 members of Congress in sending a bicameral letter urging the Biden Administration to consider refugee status for certain Palestinians fleeing Gaza—namely those with U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident family members.  

In the letter sent today to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the lawmakers expressed strong support for a Priority-2 (P-2) designation under the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for Palestinians who are affected by the ongoing violence in Gaza and are relatives of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. The Administration is reportedly considering this designation. 

“Since the outbreak of the conflict in Gaza, many congressional offices have received distressing requests for assistance from constituents desperately seeking to reunite with their loved ones. We appreciate the steps that the Biden Administration has taken to evacuate American citizens from Gaza. However, without pathways for Americans to petition for their relatives in Gaza, countless families with strong ties to our nation remain stranded in life-threatening conditions,” the lawmakers wrote. “We urge you to consider opening pathways to Palestinian refugees, particularly those with family members in the United States, to seek relief in the United States.”  

The letter notes that, historically, the U.S. has resettled very few Palestinian refugees, including only 56 refugees, or 0.09 percent of the total number of resettled refugees, in fiscal year 2023 and only 16 so far in fiscal year 2024.   

The lawmakers continued, “Given the dire conditions currently on the ground in Gaza, it is time for this to change. Specifically, we urge you to designate certain categories of Palestinians and their eligible family members, particularly close relatives of American citizens and U.S. lawful permanent residents, for access to the USRAP.” 

The USRAP has long provided a secure pathway to resettle refugees in the United States, with the most rigorous vetting of any traveler coming to the U.S. All individuals who are considered for refugee status in the U.S. must not only demonstrate their eligibility, but also complete a USCIS interview, provide biometric data, and pass both medical exams and strict security screening prior to approval to come to the United States. Moreover, national security and foreign policy experts have long viewed the refugee program as a valuable tool for the United States to decompress conflicts abroad, strengthen regional stability, and set an example for other countries.    

The lawmakers concluded, “We believe the time has come for the United States to lead in this manner and grant a P-2 designation for refugee processing for certain Palestinians who are relatives of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents and are affected by the ongoing violence.” 

Along with Sens. Welch and Durbin, the letter is signed by U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Rev. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). 

In addition to Reps. Casar, Dingell, and Jayapal, the letter is signed by 48 U.S. Representatives. Read the full list here

The letter is endorsed by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), American Federation of Ramallah Palestine, Arab Americans 4Ward, Church World Service,, Demand Progress, Dream Defenders, Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), Human Rights First, IfNotNow Movement, Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), Immigration Hub, International Refugee Assistance Project, J Street, MPower Change Action Fund, Muslim Advocates, National Iranian American Council Action (NIAC), National Partnership for New Americans, Peace Action, Project Immigration Justice for Palestinians (Project IJP),  RootsAction, Sunrise Movement, U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR), Win Without War, and World Beyond War. 

Read the full text of the letter.