By Bob Smietana
A group of religious minorities from Iran is now in limbo after the U.S. government rejected their request for asylum.
About 100 Assyrian and Armenian Christians were among those who applied for asylum, according to World magazine. The group also includes at least one Jewish family, along with other minority groups.
Of those who applied, more than 75 were told their applications were rejected.
The refugees must now leave Austria, where they’d been living while waiting for approval to move to the U.S. They have already passed initial security screening.
Their case may reflect a disagreement between Congress and the White House.
“The group of Iranians currently in Vienna are seeking asylum under a 1990 law known as the Lautenberg Amendment, which grants persecuted religious minorities in Iran, Ukraine, and other former Soviet countries special refugee status,” according to World.
The Lautenberg Amendment, which dates back to 1990, was designed to help Soviet Jews come to the U.S. It’s been expanded over the years to include refugees from Iran.
The amendment has to be approved every year by Congress. Congress recently did so. But, World reports, no new Lautenberg Amendment cases have been accepted over the past year.
Refugees who qualify under the Lautenberg Amendment must have close family in the U.S. and be part of a specific group that faces persecution, according to the Congressional Research Service. By contrast, other refugees must show they face an individual threat of persecution.
“The special cases throw into new light stepped-up security protocols under the Trump administration,” reported World senior editor Mindy Belz.
“Further, they suggest the administration may be taking a hard line on Priority 2 humanitarian cases, a preferred class of refugee admissions not affected, many believed, by the new restrictions on refugee admissions and security enhancements announced by President Trump last year.”
The State Department has confirmed that “some but not all” of the Iranian refugees who applied under the Lautenberg Amendment were denied asylum.
“These individuals were subject to the same rigorous process for resettlement as all refugees and, following input from all relevant departments and agencies, the applications for resettlement were denied,” the department said in a statement to World.
The State Department also told World that at least 800 other refugees from religious minorities from Iran have been admitted to the U.S. over the past year.
Overall, the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. has dropped dramatically. That’s affecting Christians seeking refuge in America.
During the 2016 calendar year, 41,093 Christian refugees were admitted to the United States, according to the Refugee Processing Center. In calendar year 2017, only 16,656 Christian refugees were admitted.
The limit for refugees allowed in the U.S. has declined as well, dropping from 110,000 in fiscal year 2017 to 45,000 in fiscal year 2108.
Since faith-based groups do most of the refugee resettlement in the U.S., Christian charities have also been affected.
World Relief has cut staff due to the decline in refugees. Other charities have followed suit.
“I don’t know how long it will take to undo the damage that has been done,” Matthew Soerens, U.S. director of church mobilization for World Relief, told Religion News Service.
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BOB SMIETANA (@BobSmietana) is senior writer for Facts & Trends.