Senate passes immigration bill with provisions for camp counselors, religious refugees
The immigration overhaul passed in the U.S Senate includes provisions that protect a visa program used by Jewish summer camps and that makes permanent a law that facilitates immigration for victims of religious persecution.
Jewish groups bring in summer camp counselors, shlichim — Israeli emissaries — and other workers through the J-1 visa program.
The Reform movement and JCPA, the umbrella body for public policy groups, joined other faith-based groups in lobbying senators to modify the proposed changes so they would not onerously affect hiring through J-1.
Also included was language that makes permanent the Lautenberg Amendment, the law first passed in 1989 and initiated by the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) that loosens tough refugee status standards for designated persecuted religious minorities.
As it stands, the law must be renewed with each annual budget; the new language in the Senate bill would grant the president discretion to apply it on an as-needed basis.
The law helped facilitate the exit of hundreds of thousand Soviet and Iranian Jews among other minorities. HIAS, which led the bid to make Lautenberg’s language permanent, said it was a fitting tribute to the senator, who died earlier this month.
“If enacted into law, this bill would preserve Senator Lautenberg’s legacy of protecting persecuted religious minorities while creating new opportunities for other persecuted groups—with an emphasis on those seeking religious freedom—to receive protection,” HIAS said in a statement.