Religious Groups Fear Immigration Proposals are Unfair, Burdensome

July 20, 2007


Source: Washington Post

WASHINGTON — At the Sri Siva Vishnu Temple in Lanham, Md., 11 Hindu priests recite mantras before intricately chiseled altars to deities carved by expert temple stonemasons.

They offer the idols lentils and rice prepared in a small kitchen by Haridas Padithaya, 38, who looks like a line cook in his stained T-shirt but who was trained from childhood to cook for the deities by his father, who learned from his father before him.

All — the priests, the masons, the cook — owe their work at the temple to religious-worker visas, which gave them passage from their native India to suburban Maryland jobs.

"The sustenance of the temple depends as much on the priest as on these two," said temple trustee Doddanna Rajashekar, referring to the cooks and masons as he stood in the temple's incense-perfumed entrance hall on a recent morning.

But proposed regulations for the religious-worker visa program, which the U.S. government says is rife with fraud, have kindled fears at Sri Siva Vishnu and religious organizations nationwide that workers they depend on might be shut out. Scientologists, Mormons, Jews and others have united in outcry over changes that they say would be burdensome and discriminate against legitimate religious workers such as Hindu stonemasons, causing serious staff shortages and violating religious freedom.