HIAS Announces Reauthorization of Lautenberg Amendment to Protect Religious Minorities in Iran and Former Soviet Union

Posted on Tue, Dec 20, 2011 at 16:25 pm

(New York, NY) – HIAS, the international migration agency of the American Jewish community, applauds the reauthorization of the Lautenberg Amendment, which was included in the FY 2012 Consolidated Appropriations Act that was passed by the House and Senate this weekend. It is expected that the President will sign the bill into law this week.

The Lautenberg Amendment, which facilitates the processing for U.S. refugee status for Jews and other historically persecuted religious minorities from Iran and the former Soviet Union (FSU), expired on June 1, 2011. It was included in the bill thanks to the efforts of Sen. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Kirk (R-IL), along with Senators Leahy (D-VT), Levin (D-MI), and Lindsay Graham (R-SC). In the House of Representatives, Representatives Franks (R-AZ), Dold (R-IL), Waxman (D-CA), Wolf (R-VA), and Berman (D-CA) overcame major obstacles to ensure that the Lautenberg Amendment was included in the spending bill.

The Lautenberg Amendment, as included in the Appropriations Act, will be extended to the end of the Fiscal Year – September 30, 2012 – and will allow applications filed since June 1, 2011 to be considered under the Amendment.

According to Gideon Aronoff, President & CEO of HIAS: “We are grateful for the work that the Jewish community – along with refugee and religious freedom advocates in Washington and around the country – undertook to ensure that this critical piece of legislation was enacted. With the reauthorization of the Lautenberg Amendment, a door to freedom for religious minorities in Iran and the former Soviet Union has been reopened.

“As we prepare to celebrate Hanukah and the New Year, we are thankful for Congress’ continuing commitment to protecting Jews, Christians, Baha’is, and other persecuted religious minorities. In particular, we honor and thank Senator Lautenberg for his longstanding and tireless efforts on behalf of refugees.

“With this latest legislative victory in hand, HIAS is redoubling its efforts to advocate for legislation that will continue to keep America’s doors open to those who flee religious persecution.”

First passed in 1989, the Lautenberg Amendment enabled Vietnamese refugees in camps in Southeast Asia, as well as Jews and Evangelical Christians from the USSR, to be approved for refugee status based on the historical mistreatment of these populations, without needing to prove that the severe discrimination they experienced constituted “persecution.” It has been consistently renewed over the years, and was expanded in 2003 to include religious minorities from Iran.