Sen. Toomey urges renewal of religious refugee protections

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) said Friday that he would push for the Senate to renew a program that expedites the process for persecuted religious groups to obtain refugee status.

The Pennsylvania lawmaker said extending the provision was necessary in light of the reported targeting of Jews in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk. Local news outlets reported this week that pamphlets were distributed to Jews requiring them to register with the city or potentially risk deportation.

"America was founded by those who fled their homeland in search of religious freedom," Toomey said. "Over the centuries we have assisted beleaguered people forced from their homes because of their religious beliefs.

The provision, called the "Lautenberg amendment" after late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), will expire at the end of September as part of the omnibus appropriations bill. 

It establishes a presumption of eligible refugee status for certain religious minorities primarily fleeing the former Soviet Union and Iran. Those groups include Jews, Christians and Baha'is.