Jewish organizations praised Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) for reauthorization of legislation that grants refugee status to religious minorities in Iran and to Jews in the former Soviet Union.
The “Lautenberg Amendment” — a small portion of the Omnibus Spending Bill — was approved by both houses of Congress last week.
President Barack Obama is expected to sign it into law before the holiday weekend.
Originally enacted in 1990, the bill extends refugee resettlement status to Jews, Christians, Baha’is, and other religious minorities fleeing Iran, as well as Jews in the FSU.
The amendment “extends a critical lifeline to people who face persecution in their home countries,” said Lautenberg in a Dec. 17 press release. “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.”
A coalition including the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish United Fund, the Jewish Federation of Greater Chicago Jubilee Campaign, National Association of Evangelicals, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Jewish Federations of North America, UJA-Federation of New York, and World Relief lobbied strong for its passage.
But the amendment is not without its critics, and this year a powerful one sought to block its passage.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, has stated that “the persecution of religious minorities is an unacceptable action and an important issue for Congress to address. But there has been a lack of oversight of the procedures created by the Lautenberg Amendment.”
Writing in the conservative National Review Online, Smith also argued that “whether some potential refugees should be singled out for special treatment is open to question.”
His position drew a critical editorial in his hometown newspaper, the San Antonio Express-News, on Nov. 26.
“The Lautenberg Amendment, in addition to providing a legal and orderly path for immigration, is also an expression of this nation’s highest ideals about religious and political freedom. It should be renewed as quickly as possible,” wrote the editors.
Attempts to reach Smith’s office for comment were unsuccessful.