In a world where religious persecution is an unfortunate reality, legal frameworks that offer refuge to those facing these particular hardships—such as the Lautenberg Amendment—are invaluable.
The Lautenberg Amendment, also known as the Lautenberg Program, is a U.S. immigration policy that provides a pathway for certain persecuted religious minorities to seek refuge in the U.S. This amendment has been instrumental in assisting various groups including evangelicals, Jews, and other religious minorities in escaping persecution and finding safety in the U.S.
As the crisis in Ukraine continues to escalate, this amendment is more relevant than ever, especially for the Christian community, including Baptists, who are seeking refuge from the conflict and persecution. Unfortunately, for the first time in many years, this long-standing policy has been excluded from the House of Representatives’ proposed Foreign Operations appropriations bill.
History and purpose of the Lautenberg Amendment
The Lautenberg Amendment, named after its sponsor, Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, was initially enacted in 1989 as part of the U.S. Foreign Operations Appropriations Act.
It has been reauthorized annually, often as a “rider” attached to larger spending bills, thereby ensuring its continued existence. The amendment was initially introduced to address the needs of Soviet Jews who were facing persecution and discrimination in the Soviet Union. The amendment grants presumptive refugee status to Jews and members of certain other religious minorities, making it easier for them to find refuge in the United States.
The amendment was later expanded to include other religious groups such as evangelicals and Ukrainian Catholics who were also experiencing persecution in the former Soviet Union. The primary purpose of the Lautenberg Amendment is to provide a safe haven for these vulnerable populations and ensure that they are not returned to their countries of origin, where they may face further persecution.
How the Lautenberg Amendment has been used to help persecuted religious minorities
The Lautenberg Amendment has been a lifeline for thousands of religious minorities, allowing them to escape persecution and start anew in the U.S. Under this program, individuals who are eligible for refugee status are not required to establish a well-founded fear of persecution on an individual basis, as is the case with the regular refugee admissions process. Instead, they are granted presumptive refugee status based on their membership in a designated religious minority group.
By lowering the burden of proof, the amendment acknowledges the unique challenges that religious minorities face in proving their persecution, especially in countries where such discrimination is institutionalized. The amendment has been particularly effective in expediting the resettlement process, offering a quicker route to safety for those in dire circumstances such as Jews and other religious minorities from the former Soviet Union. For example, between 1989 and 1990, over 200,000 Soviet Jews were admitted to the U.S. as refugees under the provision. In recent years, the amendment has also been used to help persecuted Christians in countries such as Iran and Iraq.
The importance of the Lautenberg Amendment for Christians in Ukraine
The Lautenberg Amendment continues to be a necessary avenue for Christians in Ukraine to flee the country and seek refuge in the U.S. Ukraine has been experiencing ongoing conflict and political instability which has led to increased persecution of religious minorities, including minority Christian groups. The situation has been exacerbated by the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine, which has led to a surge in internally displaced persons and refugees, among whom are Christians facing persecution.
The U.S. has a moral obligation to protect and support these vulnerable populations. The Lautenberg Amendment has played a vital role in assisting persecuted religious minorities in finding safety and refuge. By expediting the processing of refugee applications for Christians in Ukraine, the U.S. can help ensure their safety and provide them with the opportunity to rebuild their lives in a more secure environment.
The continued protection of the Lautenberg Amendment is not just a matter of policy but a moral imperative. Its continuation is particularly essential for Christians in Ukraine who are facing persecution and seeking to flee the country. Prioritizing the Lautenberg Amendment helps to ensure the U.S. will remain a sanctuary for those fleeing religious persecution. The ERLC has communicated these concerns to lawmakers in Congress and is advocating for the continued inclusion of the Lautenberg Amendment in fiscal year 2024 appropriations.