This leaves all the applicants in a costly limbo. Their transit visas having expired, some have received $600 fines from the Austrian government, and a few have faced threats of deportation. They receive no government assistance and cannot obtain Austrian work permits. Their U.S.-based families are trapped too, providing thousands of dollars in support. Vienna’s Catholic Cardinal Christoph Schönborn took one family into his own home after they were evicted because they couldn’t pay rent.
This leaves all the applicants in a costly limbo. … They receive no government assistance and cannot obtain Austrian work permits.
With America turning its back on the families, that leaves future support to a few Austrians and the Nazarene Fund—a nonprofit launched under the auspices of television and radio personality Glenn Beck to rescue victims of ISIS. The Lautenberg applicants “need immediate and effective support, as there is no organization or coordination of their care,” said Zeno Gamble of the Nazarene Fund, who told me his group plans to provide assistance soon.
Austrian church leaders, including members of Parliament, are working to make it possible for the families to apply for asylum in Austria, which comes with a work permit and a $995 per month stipend. But Austrians last year elected an anti-refugee government, so asylum isn’t guaranteed. And finding a home in Europe will leave them severed from extended family and extensive Armenian and Assyrian communities in the United States.
Austria, not surprisingly, has announced it will no longer grant transit visas for Lautenberg applicants, effectively ending a program that’s brought tens of thousands of persecuted religious minorities to the United States. Congress ought to take that seriously but, as one church worker in Vienna said, U.S. lawmakers “are unwilling to expend political capital to change the refugees' status or champion their cause in any meaningful way.”
The cases seemed to freeze about the time several states and refugee agencies sued the Trump administration over its executive orders banning refugees from several mainly Muslim countries, including Iran. HIAS, the U.S.-contracted resettlement agency in Vienna, is one of the plaintiffs in the case that eventually went before the Supreme Court last month. Yet legally, neither that case nor the travel bans apply to Lautenberg cases.
Trump officials informally cite new DHS protocols that came into effect under Obama—presumably vetting procedures—as the reason for the denials. But in perhaps no other way has the Trump presidency bound itself by Obama-era immigration norms.
Lacking concrete evidence these Iranians pose some security threat, the United States has an obligation to them. Failing that, the Trump administration, in effect, is working in tandem with the Iranian regime to sever non-Muslim believers from their community and their families—an irony given Trump’s anti-Iran posture.
The mangled management of the cases builds on Obama-era hostility to persecuted Christians, something Trump and Vice President Mike Pence pledged to correct. By refusing to reunite these families in the United States, a historic haven for long-targeted Assyrian and Armenian communities, and refusing to abide by the Lautenberg Amendment, they may be denying these persecuted classes not only their freedom but also their future.