Senator Lautenberg And His Stealth Amendment
November 07, 2002, 04:00 AM
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[Peter Brimelow writes: There's a silver lining to the exhumation, with a little help from the New Jersey Supreme Court, of Senator Frank Lautenberg. It gives us the chance to tell the little-known story of the "Lautenberg Amendment." Lautenberg apparently likes it being little-known. Back when Joe Fallon was helping me research Alien Nation, he couldn't get Lautenberg's office to return calls until, a triumphant aide eventually told him, the amendment had been safely renewed. I now think that an acute awareness of these indefensible ethnic privileges lay behind  much of the hysterical reaction to Alien Nation - and to any discussion of immigration policy at all.]

By  Thomas Allen

Every year, with absolutely no publicity, Congress votes to re-authorize the "Lautenberg Amendment." This legislation grants extraordinary immigration privileges to Jews, and also to Evangelicals and certain members of the Ukrainian Catholic and Orthodox Church, who live anywhere in the former Soviet Union (the "FSU," as it's known in State Departmentspeak). Any member of these protected groups, because Congress arbitrarily declares them to be persecuted, can claim the automatic right to enter the U.S. as a "refugee."

Since 1989, when Senator Lautenberg first succeeded in perpetrating this trick, about 400,000 FSU inhabitants have availed themselves of this privilege. About 11,000 will come in 2003.

And guess who's paying for it? Refugees, unlike non-refugee immigrants, receive interest-free government loans for airline tickets to the U.S. They are also, within 30 days of arrival, eligible for welfare on the same basis as an American citizen. A staggering 38% of refugee households arriving from the FSU in the last 5 years have one or more members on the life-time welfare program SSI. (see 1999 HHS Office Of Refugee Resettlement report to Congress, p. 58) More than half of newly-arrived FSU refugee households are receiving food stamps and Medicaid.

Recently, most FSU Lautenberg "refugees" have been Evangelicals. What? You didn't know that persecution of Evangelicals in the old U.S.S.R. is so severe that an act of Congress is needed to combat it? Well, the U.S. is so worried about these individuals that, in some cases, would-be "refugees" living in the provinces need not even make the trip to Moscow to apply for their visa. The U.S. government gladly dispatches INS officers to interview them in their own towns.

Are these "refugees" languishing in camps, without the possibility or means to travel to Moscow? No–they're living in their own homes under more or less the same conditions as the rest of their countrymen.

And, if selected for the program, the "refugee" need not rush to safer shores. They may wait for up to a year before actually making the move to the U.S. (The grace period is now a year because the backlog of "refugees" who hadn't got around to fleeing persecution reached tens of thousands and became an embarrassment.)

To prevent individuals from "gaming" the system, all Evangelical would-be "refugees" are quizzed about their Bible knowledge and must show that their faith pre-dates the fall of Communism.

But what an incentive to get religion!

Another Lautenberg requirement: a relative in the U.S.– who will be most likely an earlier beneficiary of the program. That's to keep the program from going totally through the roof. But, of course, real refugees don't necessarily have relatives here.

In fact, there are plenty of real refugees living in miserable conditions in the countries that once constituted the USSR–Armenians, Mskhetian Turks, Chechens. But almost none of them fit the Lautenberg categories. Perhaps 3,500 non-Lautenberg refugees will be admitted from the FSU in 2003.

Senator Lautenberg's real concern in 1989, of course, was the Soviet Jews. Overwhelmingly, they have been the primary beneficiaries of his amendment. Including programs that anticipated Lautenberg's legislation, perhaps 500,000 Soviet Jews have come here in total– a major population transfer, significantly augmenting the American Jewish community, which was estimated at only 5.5 million in 1990. Perhaps the inclusion of Soviet evangelicals in the Lautenberg legislation was an early fruit of the alliance between the "Christian Right" and the pro-Israeli lobby. (Today Jerry Falwell's cable channel runs extensive appeals for donations to Jews immigrating to Israel from the FSU, but nothing about evangelicals immigrating from the FSU to the U.S.) More likely, however, the evangelicals and Ukrainians were added merely as a fig leaf.

But the FSU seems to running out of Jews who want to immigrate to the U.S. Next year, only a couple of thousand Jewish "refugees" will come here under the Lautenberg Amendment. Partly, this is a tribute to the obvious vigor and vibrancy of Russian Jewish life today. But an estimated 44,000 Jews will emigrate to Israel next year (with the help of a $60 million U.S. grant to United Israel Appeal). This may reflect Israeli steering–or crowding out by other ethnic lobbies, who want to capture the refugee quota, of which Lautenberg refugees are a part, for themselves.

Nevertheless, the Lautenberg Amendment's main support still comes from Jewish groups. And Congress is apparently incapable of ending this group entitlement, even though the group no longer needs it.

Lautenberg set a terrible precedent, sparing one group the need to show persecution by Congressional fiat. How can Congress now resist the demands of other ethnic lobbies - especially when those lobbies represent people who really are refugees?

It can't. Public discussion of the refugee program skims from one cliché to the next. But the refugee quota and regional subquotas are brutally political. Congressmen John Conyers and Mel Watt, both black, were instrumental in moving Africa to the head of the list of refugee-sending regions–directly inspired, according to reports, by the large numbers of Soviets and Vietnamese who poured in throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Each ethnic lobby sets its demands at the level attained by previous beneficiaries.  All work together to increase the overall quota, rather than lowering the quota of one group to accommodate the demands of another.

Refugee admissions are currently down, from an average of 100,000 during the 90's [PDF] to 27,000 this year. But no one believes the slowdown is anything but temporary. The Bush administration is committed to expanding the refugee program. In a recent State Dept report to Congress (Sep 2002, Proposed Refugee Admissions For 2003, released by the bureau of PRM) the administration writes "we must recover from the setbacks of FY2002 [i.e. 9/11 security concerns] before we can grow the program" but that it remains committed to "a generous and healthy refugee admissions program".

The Bush administration is even considering backing legislative changes to further liberalize the definition of a refugee - and to give NGOs [non-governmental organizations], which profit from the influx, more influence over selecting just who gets the coveted designation.

Three separate Congressional letters have been sent to President Bush urging a minimum annual refugee admission rate of 100,000. Obviously, refugee admission is still an "apple pie" issue to some of its political supporters who know very little about how the program actually works.

Father Richard Ryscavage, director of Jesuit Refugee Services/USA:

"The U.S. government's refugee program needs to become more diffused, multicultural, more supple, and responsive to the new realities of refugee movement."

But these "new realities" are changing the refugee resettlement program now. The refugee program is bringing in ever more real refugees, from ever more unassimilable backgrounds. Officials are forced to spread them over ever more American communities. The program will lose what is left of its apple pie appeal and finally become a political issue.

How nice that Senator Lautenberg is now in a position to help repair the damage to which his amendment has so contributed.

November 07, 2002