HIAS Celebrates Government Spending Bill and Extension of the Lautenberg Amendment

(New York, NY) – HIAS, the global Jewish nonprofit that protects refugees, celebrates the recent passage of legislation that will fund the government through September 2014. Critically important to the Jewish community is the inclusion of a one-year extension of the Lautenberg Amendment, which previously expired on September 30, 2013. This legislation, which facilitates the resettlement of religious minority groups—including Jews seeking to flee Iran and the former Soviet Union (FSU)—will now be extended through September 30, 2014 and, as in previous years, is retroactive to the beginning of the current fiscal year.

Mark Hetfield, HIAS' President and CEO, said "we are particularly grateful to Senators Kirk, Menendez, Durbin, and Leahy, and Representatives Waxman and Franks for working with us to preserve Senator Lautenberg's legacy of protecting persecuted religious minorities." Hetfield called on Congress to move forward with the Senate-passed immigration reform bill, S. 744, which "seeks to cement this legacy by creating new opportunities for other persecuted groups—with an emphasis on those seeking religious freedom—to receive protection."

The government spending legislation also includes funding for the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program. The bill provides a much needed increase in funding for the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), whose budget has been strained by the needs of tens of thousands of children—known as "Unaccompanied Alien Children" or "UACs"—who in recent years have been crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in growing numbers after fleeing pervasive violence in Central America. The bill also provides $3 billion to the State Department to support international refugee protection and humanitarian assistance.

Melanie Nezer, HIAS' Vice President for Policy and Advocacy, noted that "we are thankful that Congress increased funding for refugee resettlement and international protection; however, with the rising number of UACs, we remain concerned that funding for refugee resettlement will be insufficient in the year ahead."

The bill additionally allocates $2.5 million to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for its Citizenship and Integration Grant program, which is used to help eligible immigrants become U.S. citizens. This is significant because, as Nezer explained, "citizenship is a crucial step toward full integration. By enacting this spending bill, Congress and the Administration have expressed a strong commitment to assisting refugees displaced by the Syrian war and other conflicts and affirmed that refugee resettlement is a critical tool for saving lives around the world."

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