Protecting Refugees: Renewing the Lautenberg Amendment
As the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill makes its way through Congress, with passage expected this week, there are a number of priorities we are following closely here at the RAC. Among these, we are pleased that the bill includes a retroactive one-year extension of the Lautenberg Amendment, which expired on September 30. The Lautenberg Amendment, first passed into law in 1990 after being introduced by the late Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), has long been a major priority of the Jewish community and refugee resettlement organizations.
The provision facilitates the resettlement of religious minorities, by easing the burden of proof for refugee applicants from groups the State Department has designated as of “humanitarian concern.” Today, that includes religious minorities from former Soviet Union countries and, significantly, from Iran.
Since it was first passed as a part of appropriations legislation in 1990, the bill has been renewed annually as a part of appropriations legislation. However the comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate in June and is now stalled in the House, would enact these provisions into permanent law and remove the broadly popular provision from the unpredictability of the Congressional budget process—just one more reason to pass the comprehensive immigration reform bill.
The omnibus spending bill also provides funding for the U.S. Refugee Program, including increased funding for the Office of Refugee Resettlement and additional funds to support international refugee protection and humanitarian assistance.
Our concern for refugees has long been a pillar of our advocacy for comprehensive immigration reform, as well as an independent area for social justice work. As Jews, our story throughout history has been that of a group forced time and again to flee the places where we lived; as a result, we are particularly cognizant of the need for “havens for the persecuted.” In addition, the same obligation to “welcome the stranger” that guides our pursuit of comprehensive immigration reform similarly informs our impulse to ensure that the persecuted and oppressed have a place to go. Our resolutions concerning immigration also take care to emphasize that we support “preferential treatment for those seeking asylum,” welcoming into our midst those strangers most in need.
The Lautenberg Amendment, an important legacy of the late senator, is key to upholding our commitment to refugees, especially religious minorities. But as the number of refugees worldwide skyrockets to over 10 million, including over 2.5 million who have fled the civil war in Syria, we must ensure that we welcome to our shores all those who seek the chance to escape persecution and begin anew.