The 20th Anniversary of the Lautenberg Amendment

Posted by Genever McBain on Fri, Mar 12, 2010 at 11:05 am

A report from Leonard Terlitsky, Director, HIAS FSU:

On March 10, the Embassy of the United States in Moscow held a reception and a panel discussion to mark twenty years since the Congress had passed the amendment to the U.S. Immigration Law.

The amendment was introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D- NJ) in 1989 and in time became known as the Lautenberg Amendment. It re-focused U.S. immigration policies on persecuted religious and ethnic minorities of special interest to the people of the United States.

The event at the American Embassy in Moscow was organized by Eric Rubin, Deputy Chief of Mission, and Lisa Kierans, Refugee Coordinator and brought together approximately 70 participants including, among others, the following dignitaries:

  • Chief Rabbi of Moscow Pinhas Goldschmidt
  • Bishop Sergey Riakohovsky, Chairman, Russian Union of Evangelical Christians
  • Ms. Gesche Karrenbrock, Chief of Mission, UNHCR Moscow
  • Mr. Enrico Ponziani, Chief of Mission, IOM Moscow
  • Mr. Yuri Kanner, President, Russian Jewish Congress
  • Prof. Mikhail Chlenov, Secretary General, Euro-Asian Jewish Congress

Others in attendance included diplomats and staff of the embassies of the U.S., Canada,and Norway; leaders of faith-based and secular civic and advocacy organizations; scholars; and representatives of grass-root migrant groups.

Opening the panel discussion, Mr. Rubin reflected on the importance of the Lautenberg Amendment for the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. He noted that the Amendment has been annually renewed by the U.S. Congress for twenty years and resulted in resettlement in the United States of almost 440,000 refugees from the FSU and other regions of the world.

Mr. Rubin also remarked that Senator Lautenberg, 86, was recently reported to have been diagnosed with cancer, and that the report quoted him telling the journalists that during treatment he will continue his service in the U.S. Senate and will run for re-election in 2014. Mr. Rubin noted that the Senior Senator from New Jersey’s long and illustrious track record shows that he will. He concluded, to the applause of the participants, by wishing the Senator a speedy recovery and further productive work.

Then the participants heard from a remarkable panel of former refugees from the FSU resettled in the United States, all first-generation Americans who are currently working in the Russian Federation for the U.S. government or international organizations:

  • Ms. Vera Slutsky, Program Coordinator, IOM Moscow
  • Ms. Anna Gekht, Associate Protection Officer, UNHCR Moscow
  • Captain Yury Tabach, U.S. Navy, NATO Liaison Mission in Moscow
  • Ms. Ilona Shtrom, Foreign Commercial Officer, U.S. Embassy in Moscow
  • Mr. David Strashnoy, Consul, U.S. Consulate in Ekaterinburg

The panelists shared family and personal stories of emigrating to the U.S., re-starting their lives in a new country, and integrating into the American mainstream society. Several presenters praised HIAS and other voluntary agencies for invaluable assistance they had received on their way to America and during the initial period of resettlement.

I closed the panel discussion by reflecting on my own refugee experience and reading Senator Lautenberg’s statement to cheers and applause of the audience. At the end of the evening a number of people remarked that hearing from the beneficiaries of a government policy was extremely convincing in demonstrating its effectiveness and sending a signal to USG to continue the policy.

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