[Previously by Thomas Allen: Time To Cap The Refugee Industry]
America is opening its doors to "religious minorities from Iran."
Buried in this year's $373 billion spending bill is the annual reauthorization of the Lautenberg Amendment—now known as the Specter Amendment after its new principle sponsor, Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA). The Amendment, originally designed for Soviet Jews, is the gold standard for (expedited, subsidized) immigrant importation into in the U.S. All ethnic lobbies aspire to their own version.
This year, it was expanded to include "religious minorities from Iran" including Baha'is, Christians, Zoroastrians and Jews. The bill was a legislative priority of the Refugee Industry, especially the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS).
HIAS head Leonard Glickman gloated:
"Religious minority refugee applicants from the former Soviet Union and Iran will now have greatly increased access to the [U.S.] refugee program....The entire Jewish community and others helped by this program should join us in celebrating the passage of the Specter Amendment because it will have a direct impact on many needy and worthy Jews from the former Soviet Union and Iran." [HIAS Press release]
Why Iran? Does Glickman know something we don't?
Probably not. A likelier explanation: HIAS, like the rest of the Refugee Industry, is just after the U.S. taxpayer's dollar.
There are only 25,000 Jews in Iran. Though HIAS is one of the main beneficiaries of the bill, perhaps half of the Iranian migrants it processes are not Jewish.
The Refugee Industry likes the Lautenberg/ Specter model because it dispenses with any boring need to establish that its immigrant clients are, in fact, refugees. Instead, Congress just decrees that anyone in a specified group is to be regarded as persecuted i.e. all Jews in the former Soviet Union.
These favored immigrants meet a U.S. legal definition of "refugee." But as virtually all experts from all points of the immigration opinion spectrum agree, in the main they are not refugees.
Which is a wonderful racket. An officially-designated refugee gets instant access to all welfare as well as a wealth of federal handouts. For the elderly, it means a retirement plan courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer, 30 days after arrival.
Defending this racket is how the Lautenberg Amendment was conceived. In the 1980s the Soviet Union allowed increased levels of Jewish emigration. Exiting the old USSR with visas for Israel, most would deplane either in Vienna or Italy and seek entry into the U.S. as refugees. Automatically approved by the U.S. Consulate, their next stop was New York. The taxpayer footed the bill for airfare—and absorbed the fees charged by "refugee contractors," Non-Governmental Organizations like HIAS whose role is to hustle the new arrivals onto welfare programs.
In 1988, the Reagan Administration began using more common-sense criteria. Many Soviet emigrants no longer qualified as refugees because they were not, well…refugees.
Needless to say, the Refugee Industry hated this. And it lobbied Congress to pass the Lautenberg Amendment—quasi-automatic acceptance into the U.S. for an array of special groups including Jews and some other fig-leaf minorities.
The Lautenberg Amendment has been the main vehicle of Jewish immigration to the U.S. from the old USSR—a total of perhaps 400,000. But, today, for various reasons, the flow of refugees are a mere fraction of the original totals and most are non-Jews, usually evangelicals.
This is a problem for HIAS. Like other federal refugee program contractors, HIAS is paid by the U.S. government to manage the refugee program on a per refugee basis and to hand out millions once the refugees reach U.S. shores. It is also paid for activities overseas. For example, it provides courses in 'CO' (Cultural Orientation) to refugees. And it functions as an OPE (Overseas Processing Entity) to those navigating the refugee placement bureaucracy. A robust and uninterrupted refugee pipeline is essential for business. And it's big a business: HIA revenues were $8.5 million in 2003.
Enter Iran. It has one of the highest concentrations of UN-recognized refugees (i.e. potential clients for the Refugee Industry) in the world. The U.S. has no diplomatic relations with Iran, but Austria does. Through immigrant social networks—undoubtedly aided and abetted by federal contractors—it became known that Austria was pretty much rubber-stamping special visa applications from Iran with the understanding that these immigrants would stop only temporarily in Vienna on their way to the U.S. as refugees.
But most of these emigrants were not refugees by any common sense definition, let alone that of the U.N. A relatively small number were being rejected by the U.S. They would then refuse to go home or elsewhere, even though many could have gotten visas to other countries. A small number, less than 1,000, had piled up in Austria, becoming a burden to the Austrian state, their relatives in the U.S. and HIAS.
The refugee pipeline had to be kept full and flowing. And a legislative champion was found to make it happen—Senator Specter.
It's impossible to speculate on eventual numbers coming in on the new provisions of the Specter Amendment. The numbers are small now (less than 1,000 a year). But these programs tend to become self-propagating, as we have seen with the original Lautenberg Amendment.
Although there are relatively few Jews left in Iran, religious minorities do comprise 2 percent of Iran's 69 million people. That is, about 1.4 million potential "refugees" have just been given the right to come here.
Thomas Allen (email him) is a recovering refugee worker.