Dear Member of Congress:
We write to urge you to ensure that critical protections for persecuted religious minorities are once again included in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill.
The Lautenberg Amendment, originally enacted as part of the 1990 Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill, established a presumption of refugee eligibility for certain categories of people from the former Soviet Union (FSU) and Southeast Asia. Today, it is primarily used to facilitate the resettlement of designated religious minority groups seeking to flee Iran including Jews, Christians, and Baha’is, who were added to the Amendment in 2004. The Lautenberg Amendment has historically been extended in appropriations legislation each year and is currently authorized until the end of FY 2015.
This legislation is currently more necessary than ever. The State Department and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom have consistently designated Iran as a “country of Particular Concern” for egregious ongoing and systematic violations of religious freedom. The most recent reports state that “despite the June 2013 election of a new and purportedly moderate president, the already-poor religious freedom conditions in Iran continued to deteriorate, particularly for religious minorities” and that “the government of Iran continues to engage in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.” At a time when the Iranian regime continues its campaigns to demonize Jews and jail Baha’i leaders for their beliefs, the Lautenberg Amendment preserves a pathway to freedom that is a beacon of hope.
This legislation is a critical lifeline for individuals fleeing religious persecution — it demonstrates the U.S. commitment to human rights and religious freedom. Without this safe means of exit, Iranian religious minorities could be forced to cross the border into neighboring countries, where conditions for asylum seekers, particularly non-Muslims, are extremely unsafe, and where access to resettlement is uncertain. Furthermore, due to the conflict in Ukraine, this legislation keeps the door open for certain eligible Ukrainian religious minorities seeking resettlement in the U.S.
We urge you to renew the Lautenberg Amendment for fiscal year 2016 and to ensure that this safety valve remains open for vulnerable religious minorities. By doing so, we will continue to honor our country’s proud history of protecting those who face persecution for their beliefs.
30 Years After
Agudath Israel of America
American Forum of Russian Jewry
American Humanist Association
American Jewish Committee
Association of Jewish Family & Children’s Agencies
B’nai B’rith International
Baha’is of the United States
Institute on Religion and Public Policy
International Christian Concern
Iranian American Jewish Federation
Iranian Jewish Women’s Organization
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Jewish Federations of North America
Jewish Labor Committee
Lutheran Immigration Refugee Service
National Association of Evangelicals
Russian American Foundation
Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church of America
Union for Reform Judaism
United Macedonian Diaspora
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops/Migration and Refugee Services
UCSJ: Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union