On Friday, June 22, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California heard oral arguments in response to a class action challenge to the unprecedented mass denials of Iranian refugees in the Lautenberg-Specter Program, which allows persecuted religious minorities to apply for resettlement in the United States.
As part of this historically successful program, Iranian religious minorities abandoned their homes in Iran and traveled to Austria to complete their refugee applications at the invitation of the U.S. government. But nearly 90 Iranians who had already traveled to Austria were mass denied for resettlement in February “as a matter of discretion,” without further explanation. Many now face even greater persecution if deported back to Iran .
Mariko Hirose, IRAP’s litigation director, and Belinda Lee, Latham & Watkins partner, argued on behalf of the plaintiffs who are seeking the Court’s intervention to enforce the requirements of the Lautenberg Amendment. This would compel the government to disclose the individualized reasons for the denials and allow the plaintiffs to meaningfully request government review of the denials , in the hope to be able to reunite with family members and safely practice their religious beliefs in the United States.
A ruling is to be expected in the coming weeks. Outside the courthouse after the hearing, members of the local Iranian community waited to express their support. One affected individual, whose nephew was recently denied as part of the wave of mass denials, even though his family had been allowed to travel, read from a statement:
“I haven’t seen my brother and his family in this emotionally bad situation, and it worries me and my family. We are also worried about my nephew. He has never been separated from his parents and sister.”