Congressmen, in HIAS-backed letter, urge aid to religious minorities in Iran

Marcy Oster

WASHINGTON (JTA) – A bipartisan group of Congress members sent a letter to the leaders of the House Appropriations Committee, urging them to continue aiding religious minorities trapped in Iran.

The Lautenberg Amendment, named after the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), was first enacted in the 1989 Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill. It establishes a presumption of refugee eligibility for historically persecuted groups in the former Soviet Union and Southeast Asia. Since 2003, it has been expanded to include Iranian religious minorities facing persecution.

The letter, signed by 76 Democrats and 22 Republicans, has the backing of HIAS, the U.S.-based refugee resettlement agency, which worked with Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), and Frank Wolf (R-Va.) to obtain the 98 signatures.

“Today, the provision is more necessary than ever as Iranian Jews, Christians and Baha’is suffer systematic persecution and discrimination by the Iranian government,” reads the letter, dated Sept. 11. “With no U.S. Embassy in Tehran, persecuted individuals would be forced to flee to dangerous neighboring countries such as Pakistan, where religious minorities also face grave danger,” the letter continued.