NYLAG Calls for Expansion of Lautenberg Amendment as Situation for Jews in Ukraine Worsens
In light of the civil unrest and escalating violence in Ukraine, New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) is calling for the immediate expansion of the Lautenberg Amendment. The amendment, named for the late U.S. Senator, Frank Lautenberg, has for many years been a pathway to freedom for Jews and other religious minorities fleeing persecution.
In March, as the situation in Ukraine deteriorated and Jews living in the country reported an increase in anti-Semitic incidents, NYLAG immigration attorneys began meeting with U.S. and other officials to push for an expansion of the Lautenberg Amendment to provide eligibility to a wider population of Ukrainian Jews.
NYLAG stepped up its efforts earlier this week after it was reported that Jewish worshipers leaving Passover service in an eastern Ukraine town were handed leaflets by masked men requiring Ukrainian Jews to register their names and proof of property ownership, or risk deportation. This week, NYLAG attorneys met with a senior advisor to U.S. Senator Corey Booker, heir to Mr. Lautenberg’s Senate seat, to discuss the possibility of expanding the application and implementation of the Lautenberg Amendment.
“The political uncertainty, the imminent economic collapse, and now blatant acts of anti-Semitism have triggered a new wave of fear among the Jews of Ukraine, leading to an increased movement to migrate. Given the history, the propaganda, and the rapidly changing situation in Ukraine, Jews have good reason to expect that their lives will change quickly and dramatically for the worse,” said Yisroel Schulman, NYLAG’s President and Attorney-in-Charge. “President Obama and Congress need to act now to protect the Jews of Ukraine. The Lautenberg Amendment can be the mechanism for securing the safety of Jews facing religious persecution. Not acting swiftly may result in dire consequences for thousands of Jewish families currently trapped in the Ukraine.”
The Lautenberg Amendment was first introduced in 1990 to grant eligibility for refugee status to Jews fleeing the Former Soviet Union to resettle in the U.S. In 2004 the amendment was expanded to assist religious minorities fleeing Iran. Under the Lautenberg Amendment, individuals are eligible to apply for refugee status if they can prove they are members of a religious minority subject to persecution, and have so-called “first degree” relatives — spouses, parents, children, siblings, grandparents — permanently living in the United States.
In light of the worsening political situation and the recent wave of migration by Ukrainian Jews, NYLAG is proposing a broader interpretation of the amendment to allow the aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins of permanent US residents to enter the US under the refugee program. Expanding the policy would potentially allow a greater percentage of Ukrainian Jews to obtain refugee status in the US.