A number of House Democrats, led by Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., are calling on President Trump to allow Lebanese nationals temporarily in the U.S. to stay, in the wake of an explosion in Beirut this month.
“As news reports of the impact of the Beirut explosion continue to unfold, it is clear that Lebanon is not in a position to safely accept the return of its citizens at this time,” says a letter signed by Tlaib and more than 80 other Democrats.
The Lebanese capital was rocked Aug. 4. by the blast, caused by an explosion of thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate. It killed more than 180 people, injured hundreds of thousands and left a quarter of a million homeless. The country also saw a spike in cases of COVID-19.
The Democrats called on Trump and Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf to designate Lebanon for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) so Lebanese nationals in the country on a temporary basis do not need to return.
TPS allows the administration to designate a country as having conditions that temporarily prevent its nationals from safely returning. Currently countries designated for TPS include El Salvador, Haiti, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
“Given the sheer scale of the crisis, it is imperative that the Administration take immediate steps to exercise its discretion -- as a matter of national interest -- to allow Lebanese nationals to remain in the United States at this time, by designating Lebanon for TPS or DED,” the letter says.
The Democrats also call on Trump to “welcome to our country individuals and families permanently displaced by this disaster through any and all means at your disposal, including humanitarian parole.”
The U.S. has responded with $18 million in humanitarian assistance for Lebanon, but has emphasized the need for political reforms in the country, where the terrorist organization Hezbollah has significant influence. It has been hit by protests by those angry at the government, which resigned in the wake of the blast and is now serving in a caretaker capacity.
David Hale, U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, said this week that while the U.S. would provide help for the “immediate humanitarian emergency,” further help would require political reforms.
“But for the kind of substantial assistance that the Lebanese are asking for in order to restructure their finances and their economy, it’s going to take leadership that’s committed to these deep reforms that we’ve been talking to the Lebanese about for years now,” he said in a call with reporters.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.