Senator Lautenberg, Champion of Refugee Protection and Religious Freedom

HIAS Pennsylvania mourns the passing of New Jersey Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg who passed away on Monday, June 3, 2013.  New Jersey, America and the world has lost a great humanitarian.

Sen. Lautenberg, a World War II veteran, supported many policies promoting health and safety such as baring smoking on airline flights and strong standards to prevent drunk driving.  But he will be most remembered by HIAS Pennsylvania for the “Lautenberg Amendment,”  which, since 1990,  allowed tens of thousands of  Jews and other religious minorities from the former Soviet Union to gain refugee or legal immigrant status if they could demonstrate persecution and life-long discrimination.   The Amendment is still in force today, focused mainly on providing  a pathway to protection in the U.S. for Jews, Christians, Bahai’s and other religious minorities fleeing Iran.

In April, 2002, HIAS Pennsylvania honored Senator Lautenberg in the Philadelphia Jewish Community Service Building.  Always aware of his roots, Senator Lautenberg explained that he was the first “Lautenberg” immigrant, born to Russian and Polish parents who journeyed to the U.S. for freedom and opportunity.   The auditorium was packed with hundreds of refugees from the former Soviet Union who paid tribute to him.  An artist from the former Soviet Union presented him with an original work.

Judith Bernstein-Baker, Esq., stated that “Senator Lautenberg was a champion for all those seeking peace and religious freedom.   His efforts have enabled thousands of Jews and other religious minorities to build new lives in Philadelphia, revitalizing our region.  Many of those emigrating and their children have gone on to stellar careers in business, the professions, academia and the arts.”

HIAS Pennsylvania seeks to honor Senator Lautenberg’s contributions by continuing to promote policies that protect religious freedom and that promote fair and humane immigration.  May his memory be for a blessing.

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