Jews, Christians and other religious minorities escaping religious persecution in Iran do so with the assistance of the Lautenberg Amendment. This was originally enacted as part of the 1990 Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill, which established a presumption of eligibility for refugee status for certain persecuted minorities from the Former Soviet Union (FSU) and Southeast Asia seeking to resettle in the United States. Today, the Lautenberg Amendment serves to facilitate the resettlement of Jews, Christians, Baha'is, and other religious minorities fleeing Iran, which was added to the Lautenberg Amendment in 2004, and continues to assist religious minorities from the FSU.
Under a program established by the U.S. State Department and negotiated with the government of Austria, members of certain Iranian religious minorities are eligible to receive visas to travel to Austria, where they can be safe while the U.S. government processes their applications for refugee resettlement. This arrangement is a lifeline for Iranian religious minorities, since the United States has no embassy in Iran, and cannot interview applicants there.
A renewal of the Lautenberg Amendment until September 30, 2012 was included in the FY 2012 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which was signed into law by President Obama on December 23, 2011. HIAS wishes to recognize 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. Although the Amendment has been extended, it will expire on September 30th, 2012 and must be renewed again.
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.
HIAS publishes the Lautenberg Amendment Update, a weekly compilation of articles relating to Iranian religious minorities and the renewal of the Lautenberg Amendment. Click here to subscribe.
Urge Congress to Extend the Lautenberg Amendment - The Lautenberg Amendment, which helps persecuted religious minorities fleeing Iran and the former Soviet Union, is set to expire on September 30, 2012. The provision must be renewed each year. A failure to reauthorize the Amendment would make it difficult for the U.S. to protect Christian, Jewish, Baha'i, and other religious minorities fleeing Iran and could end family reunification for Jews and Evangelicals in the former Soviet Union with relatives in the U.S. Take action by urging your elected officials to extend this important legislation.
Jewish Community Leaders Meet with Democratic Senators - On May 23rd, HIAS' President & CEO Gideon Aronoff was among seventeen Jewish community leaders who met with Democratic Senators on Capitol Hill. Aronoff thanked the 25 Senators who attended the meeting for their support of immigrants and specifically for their recent commitment to reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) without diminishing protections for immigrant women. He also thanked the Senators for their support of the Lautenberg Amendment and expressed a continuing need for the program especially given circumstances in Iran. Senator Lautenberg (pictured above, left, with Gideon Aronoff) warmly thanked HIAS for helping so many people.
Georgetown's Berkley Center Hosts Forum on Religious Freedom - On November 17, Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs held a Religious Freedom Project Symposium called "What's So Special About Religious Freedom?" Speakers -- including Thomas Farr from the Religious Freedom Project, Noah Feldman of Harvard Law School, and Mona Siddiqui of University of Glasgow -- gave a broad overview of the development of religious freedom, noting the Protestant Reformation and the experience of the Jewish community as two of the most significant influences on the modern conception of religious freedom. The Pew Center recently released two reports showing that 70% of the world's population lives in countries where their religious freedom is highly restricted.
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