The Washington Free Beacon: The Department of Homeland Security has re-opened the asylum applications of a group of 87 Iranian Christians and other religious minorities who have been marooned in Austria for more than a year awaiting a final decision.
Lawyers for the group said the latest DHS action, which they were notified about last week, reversed an earlier blanket denial of their refugee applications back in February and could be a breakthrough in allowing them to reunite with other family members already living in the United States.
"We were very happy to hear that the government re-opened these cases, and we're hoping this will bring them closer to being able to reunite with their families," Mariko Hirose, who serves as the litigation director for the International Refugee Assistance Project in New York, told the Washington Free Beacon.
"This is a specific group of people who this administration and several prior administrations has recognized have been persecuted and have committed to helping," she added. "We hope that the government will process these cases quickly, so our clients can reach the safety of the United States."
DHS did not respond to a request for comment. The State Department referred all questions on the matter to DHS.
The group has earned the sympathy and concern of a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress, as well as several high-level Trump administration officials.
Sam Brownback, the U.S. ambassador at large for religious freedom who just weeks ago held the first-ever four-day ministerial on religious persecution across the globe, has said he has been involved in several high-level discussions about this group of Iranian Christians and other religious minorities stuck in Austria.
"I hope there is a positive outcome," Brownback recently told the Free Beacon while declining to comment further.
A Trump administration official on Monday declined to comment on the specific cases, saying: "the administration is strongly committed to supporting the Iranian people."
"Since January 2017, over 800 Iranian religious minorities have been approved for admissions to the United States through this program and have been successfully resettled in the U.S."
The Iranian individuals and their family members applied for refugee resettlement in the United States under the Lautenberg Amendment, a law Congress first passed in 1989 to facilitate refugee admission of Jews fleeing the former Soviet Union. Lawmakers expanded the program in 2004 to include religious minorities in Iran.
The Iranians had traveled to Vienna from Tehran at the invitation of the U.S. government to complete their applications >>>