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A U.S. program that rescues persecuted Christians from Iran may end on June 1.

By Paul Marshall & Tina Ramirez

5/24/2011 Iran (National Review) – If Rep. Lamar Smith (R., Texas), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, does not quickly make some changes, one casualty of the current budget debates could be Iran’s heavily persecuted religious minorities. At issue is a humanitarian program authorized by something called the Lautenberg Amendment, a mechanism that has been renewed with bipartisan support for over 20 years.

Iran has persecuted its religious minorities since 1979, but in recent years, under Ahmadinejad, the repression has increased. In April, seven leaders of Iran’s Baha’i community were told that their 20-year prison sentences, previously reduced by an appeals court, had been reinstated; hundreds of Christians have been arrested in the last few months; and Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani faces a possible death sentence for apostasy.

Iran has been certified under the U.S. International Religious Freedom Act as a “Country of Particular Concern” because of its religious repression. Yet, as this crackdown on religious minorities escalates, Congress is about to end one of the few diplomatic tools we have to protect Baha’is, Christians, Jews, and others targeted by the regime.

The Lautenberg Amendment works like this: Since the U.S. does not have an embassy in Tehran, the Austrian government has been helping the American embassy in Vienna process refugee applications from Iranian religious minorities. The Austrians issue special visas that allow minorities into Austria so they can be interviewed by American officials; in turn, the Austrians seek assurances that applicants will not be left stranded in Vienna. The amendment establishes a clear standard for processing nationals and residents of the Islamic Republic of Iran, who, as members of a religious minority in Iran, “share common characteristics that identify them as targets of persecution.”

The Lautenberg Amendment does not, repeat not, require the expenditure of funds, nor does it increase the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. or change the requirements for admission. It simply provides a definition that helps assure third-party countries that the U.S. will have a consistent policy of processing Iranians that are members of a persecuted religious group.

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