HIAS Applauds the 108 Congressional Democrats and Republicans Urging Protection of Religious Minorities Who Flee Iran

Posted on Fri, Sep 16, 2011 at 13:57 pm

(New York, NY) – HIAS, the international migration agency of the American Jewish community, applauds the action taken by 108 members of Congress, who late yesterday sent a letter to the leaders of the House of Representatives urging them to renew the Lautenberg Amendment, and looks forward to the quick reauthorization of this critical safety valve for Jews and other religious minorities.

The bi-partisan group, which included members of Congress from all over the country representing a wide range of political views, asked House leadership to take swift action to renew the "Lautenberg Amendment," a critical tool for protecting religious minorities escaping severe violations of religious freedom who seek refuge in the United States. In August, 21 Senators led by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) signed a similar letter in support of the Amendment.

Since 2004, the Lautenberg Amendment has served to facilitate the escape of certain religious minorities fleeing Iran. According to the letter: “Before the Lautenberg Amendment was expanded to include Iranian religious minorities, the Austrian government closed down the U.S. processing program in Vienna for Iranian religious minorities because too many Iranians were stranded in Vienna when U.S. refugee adjudicators rejected their cases. The Austrian government only allowed the U.S. to re-start processing after the Lautenberg Amendment was extended to these groups. Without the Lautenberg Amendment, U.S. refugee processing in Austria of Iranian Christians, Jews, and Baha’is would be limited or even terminated.”

Gideon Aronoff, President and CEO of HIAS, said, “What kind of message would Congress be sending to Iran—and to those repressed by the Iranian regime—if it fails to renew the Lautenberg Amendment and closes the door to safety on Jews, Bahai’s, and others? We must keep that door open—Jews and others that need to leave Iran must have a safe way out. HIAS is grateful to Representatives Robert Dold (R-IL) and Henry Waxman (D-CA) for taking the lead and to every member of Congress who signed this letter.”

Just this week, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom re-designated Iran as a Country of Particular Concern for religious freedom violations, stating: “The government of Iran continues to engage in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, including prolonged detention, torture, and executions based primarily or entirely upon the religion of the accused. Iran is a constitutional, theocratic republic that discriminates against its citizens on the basis of religion or belief. During the past year, religious freedom conditions continued to deteriorate, especially for religious minorities such as Baha’is, Christians, and Sufi Muslims, and physical attacks, harassment, detention, arrests, and imprisonment intensified. Even the recognized non-Muslim religious minorities protected under Iran’s constitution—Jews, Armenian and Assyrian Christians, and Zoroastrians—faced increasing discrimination and repression.” USCIRF also noted that “heightened anti-Semitism and repeated Holocaust denials by senior government officials have increased fear among Iran’s Jewish community.”