February 23, 2018
USCIRF Concerned by Denial of Lautenberg Refugees from Iran
“These refugees face the imminent danger of return to Iran, where the already dire situation for religious minorities is steadily deteriorating,” said USCIRF Chairman Daniel Mark
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is concerned by recent reports that roughly 100 members of Iranian religious minorities, who sought resettlement to the United States, have been denied asylum and could be returned to Iran where they may face discrimination and persecution.
The refugees, most of whom are reported to be Assyrian or Armenian Christians, were seeking refuge in the United States under the Lautenberg Amendment. The Lautenberg Amendment, enacted in 1990, was expanded in 2004 to allow members of Iranian religious minorities, including Christians, Zoroastrians, Baha’is, and others, to apply for refugee status under a special category in recognition of their status as persecuted minorities.
“National security must remain a priority for all U.S. government policies,” commented Chairman Daniel Mark. “Yet we also must make timely security assessments in keeping with the intent of the Lautenberg Amendment. These refugees face the imminent danger of return to Iran, where the already dire situation for religious minorities is steadily deteriorating.”
Typically, Lautenberg Amendment processing takes only a few months and has a high rate of approval for admission into the United States. This group of Iranian religious minorities has waited in Vienna for over a year, despite reportedly being vetted before being invited to Vienna, as is common practice for refugees under the Lautenberg Amendment.
“Recent public statements by the administration regarding the plight of religious minorities in the Middle East as well as President Trump’s national security strategy evince a clear commitment to the protection of religious freedom as a U.S. foreign policy priority, and few policies embody this commitment more than the Lautenberg Amendment,” continued Chairman Mark.
USCIRF repeatedly has recommended that the Lautenberg Amendment be renewed in order to offer protection to Iranian religious minorities like Christians and Baha’is who face persecution, discrimination, or harassment at the hands of the Iranian government. Since 1999, the State Department has designated Iran as a “country of particular concern” for engaging in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.
For more information, see USCIRF’s 2017 annual report chapter on Iran.