In a victory for all the faith groups that put time and effort into ensuring the bill’s passage, last week the House followed in the Senate’s footsteps and gave S. 3245 the green light.
LIRS’s advocacy team worked hard with front-line partners and behind the scenes to alert lawmakers to the importance of this legislation. One key advocacy measure was signing onto an interfaith letter backed by faith groups ranging from the American Jewish Committee to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Association of Evangelicals.
It’s important to remember, however, that lawmakers are particularly sensitive to calls and letters from their constituents. If you answered our call to contact your elected officials through the LIRS Action Center, your voice was key to carrying the day! Thank you!
Here’s what LIRS President and CEO Linda Hartke had to say about this win:
We thank the House for following the Senate’s lead to renew for three years the Religious Worker Visa Program, which boosts Lutheran churches’ ability to reach migrants and refugees by fulfilling unique staffing needs for language skills and cultural competency. In the absence of a permanent reauthorization of the Special Immigrant Non-Minister Religious Worker program, we applaud this three-year extension to ensure that churches and religious organizations can continue to access this important program.
The Special Immigrant Non-Minister part of the Religious Worker Visa Program was included in S. 3245, a bill the Senate passed August 2, that contained a three-year reauthorization for several immigration programs. The measure passed by a 412-3 vote and will now go to President Obama for his signature. Under S. 3245, up to 5,000 visas per year are available to religious workers employed by diverse religious denominations and groups. The participating organizations call these visas vital to their work.
Slated to expire in September 2012, the program would run until September 2015 under the Senate legislation. Originally enacted with a sunset provision in 1990, it has enjoyed broad, bipartisan support in Congress and has been reauthorized six times since then.
Rev. Stephen Bouman, ELCA Executive Director of Congregational and Synodical Mission, shared his thoughts with us, saying: “As a church body which resettles refugees, maintains direct services to vulnerable immigrant populations and starts and supports religious ministries of immigrants and refugees, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America depends on religious workers who are themselves immigrants and refugees.”
Rev. Ruben Duran, ELCA Director for New Congregations, had this to say: “We applaud the extension of the Religious Worker Visa Program, by which many capable and uniquely qualified leaders are able to develop new communities of faith in the United States.”
Lutheran churches in the United States use religious workers in many ministries. In a faith becoming increasingly diverse, many Lutheran religious workers serve at the synod or district level in outreach positions. Many others help develop new congregations or programs, serving diverse communities, while others work within churches to ensure worship is accessible to all.
Here’s what Rev. John Loum, Director of the Ethnic Immigrant Institute of Theology at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, had to say when the Senate passed the bill in August:
The Religious Worker Visa Program extension’s importance far outweighs that of the worker; it is the communities which will maximize its benefits. These workers are of great importance, bringing religious, social, and economic stability to their respective communities. We must have people who can speak the language to be the shepherds for the sheep.
There is still more to be done, and high on the list next is stopping cuts to the U.S. budget for refugee resettlement. At stake is a 15% decrease in current funding, which could hinder efforts to ensure newcomers’ integration and well-being.
Thank you for helping us get the Religious Worker Visa program renewed, and please visit the Action Center now to raise your voice to stop the cuts!
Image credit: Diliff