Religious leaders urged a Senate committee Friday to renew an immigration law that makes visas available so religious workers from other countries can work in the United States. Mother Teresa, in a letter written just weeks before her death, sought help.
Sen. Spencer Abraham, R-Mich., chairman of Senate Judiciary immigration subcommittee, released the letter at a hearing of his panel and said he planned to introduce legislation that would make permanent the religious workers provisions of federal immigration law.
He said he was swayed on the issue by Mother Teresa, who wrote in her letter, “Please, help us and our poor by extending this law.”
Cardinal Adam Maida of Detroit said the program is critical “not only for religious denominations and organizations who make use of it, but also for the individuals and communities we serve.”
Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., have agreed to be co-sponsors of his bill, Abraham said.
The Immigration Act of 1990 set aside 10,000 visas per year for “special immigrants,” with up to 5,000 of them available to religious ministers. The remaining 5,000 could be awarded to qualified individuals working for religious organizations outside the United States.
The law has permitted nuns, brothers, cantors, lay preachers, religious instructors and counselors, missionaries and others to live and work in this country at the request U.S.-based religious organizations.
David Grunblatt, chairman of the immigration subcommittee of Agudath Israel of America, a national organization of Orthodox Jews, urged the panel to refrain from imposing additional restrictions on the workers.
He said House lawmakers were considering extending the law for three additional years and including income and other restrictions, such as requiring that workers belong to their denominations for five years before qualifying for a visa. The current membership requirement is two years.
“We must not shut the doors, certainly to those who helped to enrich us so much spiritually and culturally,” Grunblatt said.