I.S. Law Firm applauds extension of Lautenberg Amendment, which provides protection to refugees seeking religious freedom, through fiscal year 2012. The Lautenberg Amendment has been extended as part of Fiscal Year 2012 Consolidated Appropriations bill, passed by the House and Senate and signed by President Obama shortly before the end of 2011.

The Lautenberg Amendment was originally enacted as part of the 1990 Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill, when thousands of Soviet Christians and Jews facing religious persecution were denied refugee status by the United States. The Lautenberg Amendment solved this problem by giving clear guidance to immigration officers and enabling persecuted individuals to come to the United States. In 2003, when the same problem occurred with Jews, Christians, Baha’is, and Christians in Iran, the United States Congress expanded the protection of the Lautenberg Amendment to Iranian religious minorities, while continuing to cover persecuted religious minorities from former Soviet countries.

Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), the creator of the original amendment, said in a statement on the inclusion of the extension in the 2012 spending bill: “The Lautenberg Amendment extends a critical lifeline to people who face persecution in their home countries. More than twenty years ago, I created this program to allow religious minorities to come live safely in the United States and I am proud that it has helped hundreds of thousands of individuals. As President Ahmadinejad remains in power in Iran, it is especially critical to maintain this program and provide Iranian religious minorities with a means of safely escaping persecution.”

The Lautenberg Amendment has been extended on appropriations legislation each year since it was first enacted in 1990. However, in fiscal year 2011, the Lautenberg Amendment was only extended for part of the year and expired on June 1, 2011. The main obstacle to renewal was the objection of Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over refugee-related legislation. Mr. Smith objected to the inclusion of the Lautenberg Amendment on appropriations legislation arguing that, while “the persecution of religious minorities is an unacceptable action and an important issue for Congress to address … there has been a lack of oversight of the procedures created by the Lautenberg Amendment.” Following the expiration of the Lautenberg Amendment in June 2011, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) announced the end of the USCIS Moscow Parole Program in Russia as of September 30, 2011.

A bipartisan effort to renew the Lautenberg Amendment gathered support from many members of the United States Congress. In a letter to the leadership of Committee on Appropriation, 21 senators argued in August 2011: “Without the Lautenberg Amendment providing a safe means of exit, Iranian religious minorities will be forced to cross the border to Turkey or Pakistan, where conditions for asylum seekers (particularly non-Muslims) are extremely unsafe, and access to resettlement uncertain.” The renewed Amendment extends this program through September 30, 2012 (the end of fiscal year-2012), enabling persecuted religious minorities to apply for refugee protection under the Amendment effective immediately.

Attorneys at I.S. Law Firm have helped a number of individuals from post-Soviet republics and the Middle East to obtain permanent residency in the United States. We understand the suffering of ethnic and religious minorities, which, unfortunately, continues to this day in many countries. To explore your immigration options, please contact us at +1-703-527-1779 or via email at [email protected].