Last week President Obama signed into law a massive $1.1 trillion bill to fund the government. Nestled deep in the bill was a small provision that makes a world of difference to families who are persecuted due to their religious beliefs.
The Lautenberg Amendment was originally enacted in 1989 to serve people fleeing the former Soviet Union (FSU) and Southeast Asia, and today primarily facilitates the resettlement of designated religious minority groups seeking to flee Iran.
The new omnibus bill extends this crucial legislation through September 2016. In doing so, it ensures a safe means of exit for Iranian religious minorities and also keeps the door open for people from the FSU including certain eligible Ukrainian religious minorities who seek to join family and resettle in the U.S.
“This provision is critically important to the Jewish community” said Melanie Nezer, HIAS’ vice president for Policy and Advocacy, who further noted that “we are grateful for the leadership of Senators Menendez, Kirk, Schumer, Leahy, and Graham, as well as Representatives Schiff and Franks. With their help, we are working to preserve the late Senator Frank Lautenberg’s legacy of protecting persecuted religious minorities.”
Despite calls for provisions that would have effectively shut down the resettlement of Syrian refugees, the spending bill signed by the president did not affect these programs. While this is a victory for refugee advocates, the fight is far from over. Nezer noted that “we remain concerned that funding levels for refugee resettlement remain largely stagnant in the bill, despite the Administration’s stated desire to resettle more refugees in the coming years.”
HIAS supports President Obama’s call for increased refugee resettlement and will continue to advocate and educate elected officials throughout the country about the benefits of refugee resettlement and our proud tradition of protecting and welcoming all refugees.