Republicans want to ban Palestinian refugees from entering the U.S., but it’s already very hard for them to get in

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Amid the Gaza conflict, Republicans in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail are advocating for a ban on any Palestinian refugees’ coming to the U.S. — but already very few Palestinians are admitted, and the Biden administration has no plans to change the status quo.

Out of more than 60,000 total refugees resettled in the U.S. in fiscal year 2023, 56 Palestinians were admitted. In the past 10 years, fewer than 600 Palestinians in all have come to the U.S. as refugees, according to the State Department.

The numbers are so low in large part because Palestinians cannot follow the same pathway into the U.S. as other nationalities. The 1951 Refugee Convention that established the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and defined the criteria for refugees around the world explicitly left out Palestinians living in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. The U.S. uses the refugee agency to identify potential refugees.

The U.N. has since established the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, but it provides only aid, not resettlement, according to its website.

Palestinians who do find their way to the U.S. as refugees may be coming from other parts of the world while they retain their Palestinian citizenship, or they may have been referred as refugees to the U.N. refugee agency by nongovernmental organizations, according to the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which provides support to refugees entering the U.S.

A spokesperson for the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service told NBC News neither it nor other traditional refugee advocacy organizations have called for raising the number of Palestinians admitted to the U.S. because of the international rules complicating their resettlement.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican presidential candidate, accused one of his opponents, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, of trying to “import” Palestinians into the U.S.

Speaking Tuesday on “The Megyn Kelly Show,” DeSantis renewed his calls to block Palestinian refugees.

“The average person in Gaza that’s been taught to hate Jews, you know, their view is they don’t necessarily want their own state. What they seek is the destruction of the Jewish state. And that is not limited to Hamas. That is a widespread, deeply embedded belief amongst Palestinian Arabs in the Gaza Strip,” DeSantis said.

In Congress, Republican Reps. Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin and Andy Ogles of Tennessee introduced the Guaranteeing Aggressors Zero Admission Act, or the GAZA Act, which would prevent the Biden administration from issuing visas to people with Palestinian Authority passports.

Spokespeople for the Department of Homeland Security said the agency has no plans to change the refugee admission process for people from Gaza or to create special programs to speed processing for Israelis who may want to come to the U.S. 

Former President Donald Trump also said this week that he would extend his travel ban to Gaza if he is re-elected.

Trump claimed on Truth Social last week that members of Hamas, the terrorist organization in Gaza responsible for carrying out the attacks on Israel, were “pouring” over the southern U.S. border.

A DHS official said the idea that members of Hamas are “pouring” across the border or that the numbers have increased recently is false. The exact number of recent border crossers who are associated with Hamas remains classified.

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