Understanding the Lautenberg Amendment for Family Reunification

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Creating a Safe Haven for Refugees Worldwide

The United States Congress enacted the Lautenberg Amendment in 1990. Also called the Lautenberg Program, it paved the way for some persecuted members of religious minorities to find refuge in the US. It was New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg who proposed it as the refugee situation continued to develop worldwide.

The amendment recognizes the hardships of religious minorities to prove their persecution. It’s effective in speeding up the resettlement process, providing an easier route to safety for those in dire situations.

In this article, we explain this amendment and its significance. You will also understand how it helps tens of thousands seeking family reunification. Contact Andrew T. Thomas, Attorneys at Law, if you need guidance navigating Houston’s Refugee Resettlement Programs.

Understanding the Lautenberg Amendment

The Lautenberg Amendment is a family reunification program operating under the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP).

It was initially introduced to cater to the needs of Soviet Jews experiencing government persecution and discrimination. It authorizes citizens of former Soviet Union countries to be with their relatives in the U.S. This is done by granting them presumptive refugee status.

In 2004, the Specter Amendment to the Lautenberg Program allowed religious minorities in Iran to find refuge in the US. They include Christians, Jews, Baha’is, Zoroastrians, and Sabaean-Mandaeans.

The amendment was later extended to cover persecuted religious minorities in other countries. This includes Ukrainian Catholics, Evangelical Christians, and Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church members. Although it’s an integral part of the U.S. refugee policy, it expires every September 30. Thus, the program requires annual reauthorization. It’s usually a “rider” connected to bigger spending bills to ensure its continuous existence.

Biden’s Immigration Executive Action shows America’s commitment to supporting family reunification and advancing freedom. The restrictions on immigration imposed by the former Trump Administration were rescinded. Several executive orders were also issued to address immigration concerns, including the increase in the number of refugees to be admitted annually.

Eligibility Requirements

U.S. citizens, asylees, refugees, and permanent residents who wish to bring their families to the country may apply through a refugee resettlement agency. They must comply with the following requirements to be eligible.

For U.S. family members (also known as U.S. tie)

  • A spouse, parent, grandparent, child, grandchild, or sibling of the applicant seeking refuge

  • U.S. citizen, asylee, refugee, parolee, or lawful permanent resident

  • At least 18 years old

For Primary Applicants in a Former Soviet Union (FSU) Country

  • A spouse, parent, grandparent, child, grandchild, or sibling of the U.S. family member

  • A citizen of a former Soviet Union country: Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Russia, Moldova, Lithuania, Latvia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Estonia, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Armenia

  • Member of a religious minority such as Ukrainian Catholics, Evangelical Christians, and Jews

For Primary Applicants in Iran

  • A spouse, parent, grandparent, child, grandchild, or sibling of the U.S. family member

  • An Iranian citizen living in Iran

  • Member of a religious minority such as Christians, Jews, Sabaean-Mandaeans, Baha’is, and Zoroastrians

  • At least 18 years old

The Application Process Under the Lautenberg Amendment

The application process is initiated by the U.S. Tie (UST). There is no filing fee when applying for refuge in the U.S. However, the applicant has to go through several steps and comply with documentary requirements. Here’s a step-by-step guide to the application process:

  1. The UST contacts an approved refugee resettlement agency (RA) for an initial screening. Find the list here.
  2. The applicants (intending refugees) over 14 complete a Preliminary Questionnaire and file it with the RA.
  3. After initial approval, the RA prepares and completes the Affidavit of Relationship (AOR). If additional documentation is needed, the UST will be contacted.
  4. The case file is forwarded to the head office of the RA and then to the relevant authorities.

The process can take anywhere between a year to five years, depending on the RA’s workload and other factors.

Lautenberg Program Documentary Requirements

Here’s a list of the common documents required under the program. However, the following list is not exhaustive. The resettlement site where the application was submitted may request additional documents.

Former Soviet Union requirements (English translation not required)

For US-based family members

  • Birth certificate

  • Evidence of U.S. legal status, e.g., Passport, LPR Card, I-94 Form, or Certification of Naturalization

For applicants

  • Birth certificate

  • National ID Card

  • Passport

  • Marriage certificate

  • Adoption Order, Divorce decree, Name Change decree

  • Colored passport picture

Iran Requirements (English translation required)

For US-based family members

  • Original copy of the birth certificate

  • Evidence of US legal status, e.g., Passport, LPR Card, I-94 Form, or Certification of Naturalization

For applicants

  • Original copy of the birth certificate (Shenasnameh)

  • National ID Card (Melli)

  • Passport

  • Marriage certificate

  • Adoption Order, Divorce decree, Name Change decree

  • Colored passport picture

  • Proof of religious affiliation to Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Baha’i or Sabean-Mandean

  • Court records if convicted of a crime

  • For male applicants aged 18 years and above: military identity card or military exemption card

  • Colored passport picture

  • Medical and vital records

Challenges and Considerations

Here are some challenges that applicants can encounter and how they may address them:

  1. Unable to provide required documents due to ongoing conflict, such as the war in Ukraine: Required documents still need to be submitted, but an original copy is not mandatory. Scanned images, photocopies, or hard copies may be accepted.
  2. The applicant left the country of origin during the application process: Those who have an ongoing refugee case through the Lautenberg Program and left the country may write to the Resettlement Support Center Eurasia. They may provide their new location and contact details.
  3. The applicant has no relative in the United States: They must identify someone who’s willing to be their U.S. tie. If they have no relatives, it can be a friend that they know personally. The potential U.S. tie should go to the nearest refugee resettlement agency to learn about the application process.

Andrew T. Thomas, Attorneys at Law, Can Help You

The Lautenberg Program is part of America’s commitment to protect religious freedom and reunify immediate family members. It is renewed and reauthorized yearly.

The refugee program plays a crucial role in helping to resettle religious minorities, including Jews, Evangelical Christians, Zoroastrians, and Greek Orthodox people from Ukraine and Iran. To be eligible, the applicant must have a U.S. tie, meaning they have a family member who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.

The application process is quite complicated, and completing requirements is burdensome. Nonetheless, it’s an opportunity for your loved ones to rebuild their lives in an environment where they feel safe.

Do you wish to move forward in getting your loved ones to safety? Do you need help with the sponsorship of your minor children or spouse? Having experienced immigration lawyers working on your case would be highly beneficial.

Our experienced immigration lawyers at Andrew T. Thomas, Attorneys at Law, have vast experience in dealing with immigration cases. Call us today to schedule a free consultation.