Senator Lautenberg And His Stealth Amendment

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,
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 

 of the hysterical reaction to

Alien Nation – and to any discussion of
immigration policy at all

Thomas Allen

Every year, with absolutely no publicity,
Congress votes to re-authorize the “Lautenberg
Amendment.” This legislation grants

extraordinary immigration privileges
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


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

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

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

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

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

9/11 security concerns
] before we can grow the
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

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

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

November 07, 2002