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Washington, D.C. (June 1, 2011) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that Congress is planning to end an expense-free humanitarian program called the Lautenberg Amendment that has received bipartisan support for over 20 years. The amendment grants heavily persecuted Christians and other religious minorities in Iran a safe avenue to apply for refugee status. Without the program, persecuted Iranian Christians who are unable to flee the country will likely face imprisonment or execution.

The Lautenberg Amendment has rescued persecuted Christians, Baha’is and Jews from Iran since 2003 by establishing a clear standard for processing refugee applications submitted by religious minorities. Because the U.S. does not have an embassy in Tehran, the program allows the Austrian Embassy to issue special visas that allow persecuted minorities into Austria in order to be interviewed at the U.S. Embassy in Vienna. The program does not require the expenditure of funds, nor does it increase the number of refugees admitted into the U.S. The program simply offers Iranian applicants who are members of a persecuted religious group the same opportunity to be granted refugee status in the U.S. that is given to applicants in other countries throughout the world.

Rep. Lamar Smith, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, is calling for oversight of this amendment and all immigration policies, which could lead to the end of the program in Iran. If the program is not renewed, 688 persecuted Iranian minorities who have already begun the refugee application process will be trapped in Iran and may be arrested along with the 254 Christians who have been arrested since June 2010. One of the imprisoned, Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, was issued the death sentence for apostasy in September.

Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “In early April, ICC requested that Christians call Rep. Lamar Smith’s office to express their concerns. While the program was successfully extended until June, it is once again under review. Without the program’s quick renewal, Austria may stop issuing visas and force Iranian Christians to pursue more dangerous options to avoid imprisonment and possible execution. We urge the U.S. Congress to save countless lives by permanently renewing the Lautenberg Amendment to assure religious minorities in Iran that their applications will be reviewed and processed.”

Please call Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, to express your concern for the immediate safety of Iranian persecuted minorities and for immigration policy that guarantees their access to the U.S. Embassy in Vienna: (202) 225-4236

For interviews, contact Aidan Clay, Regional Manager for the Middle East: [email protected]