On August 14, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) called on Congress to reauthorize the bipartisan Lautenberg Amendment, a family reunification program providing a legal path for resettlement for religious minorities fleeing government persecution. Currently, the fate of this vital pathway hangs in the balance as Members of Congress debate the FY 2024 budget.

USCIRF Chair Abraham Cooper, who spoke about the amendment at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing in July 2023, asked Congress to send “an unmistakable bipartisan message that the United States is committed to advancing the values of religious freedom upon which it was founded.”

Congress enacted the Lautenberg Amendment in 1990 to help resettle religious minorities such as Jews, Evangelical Christians, Catholics, Autocephalous Orthodox, and Greek Orthodox people from the former Soviet Union. The Specter Amendment in 2004 expanded the program to religious minorities in Iran, including Christians, Jews, Baha’is, Zoroastrians, and Mandean/Sabeans, admitting 30,000 people since 1990 who were fleeing the Iranian government’s severe persecution of religious minorities.

The program requires annual reauthorization by both the Senate and House of Representatives. Unfortunately, the budget that was approved by the House of Representatives in July did not include the annual extension language that would reauthorize the program. The necessary extension language was only included in the FY 2024 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPs) appropriations bill that was approved by the Senate Committee on Appropriations.

If the House does not include the necessary extension language in its budget and Congress does not reauthorize the Lautenberg Amendment, the Lautenberg pathway is in danger of closing, preventing potentially tens of thousands of individuals from starting new lives in the U.S. where they can be safe from religious persecution.

The Lautenberg program has been a lifeline for tens of thousands of at-risk minorities fleeing Ukraine over the last 30 years. The State Department indicates that, since FY 2018, more than 14,000 Ukrainian nationals have been resettled in the United States under the Lautenberg Program. Now, more than ever, it is critical to keep this pathway open to many Ukrainian families who have no other avenue for resettlement in the United States.

“For over three decades, the Lautenberg Amendment has embodied American leadership on advancing freedom of religion or belief,” said USCIRF Vice Chair Frederick A. Davie. “Reauthorizing the Amendment will again set a shining example for like-minded governments around the world of America’s commitment to the protection of religious freedom around the world.”

To read the full article from USCIRF, visit their news page.

To learn more about the Lautenberg program, read the Lautenberg Program Fact Sheet from the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI).