WASHINGTON – Democrat Frank Raleigh Lautenberg of New Jersey, the oldest member of the US Senate, died Monday morning from pneumonia, at the age of 89. Lautenberg was a multimillionaire businessman born to poor Jewish immigrant parents from Poland and Russia.
In regards to the Jewish people, the highlight of his 30-year Senate service was the promotion of the law allowing the mass immigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union to the US. He was the last WWII veteran serving in the Senate.
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The senior citizen senator was the force behind the "Lautenberg Amendment," which allowed tens of thousands of Jewish immigrants entry into the United States, after the fall of communism. In 1990, he promoted a law easing standards for application of refugee status in the US. This enabled Soviet Jews claiming religious persecution in their homeland to receive refugee status in the States. This legislation also enabled other minorities, such as those from Iran, Vietnam and Myanmar, to win refugee status as well.
Lautenberg, Regan at signing of drinking age legislation (Photo: AP)
Lautenberg left his mark on the lives of millions of Americans – even those not aware of his actions. In the 1980s, he was the driving force behind the law banning smoking on US domestic flights, and was also responsible for the law raising the legal drinking age to 21.
Other legislation under the senator’s name: the 1996 ban on arms sales to those convicted of offenses within the family. He was in favor of toughening US gun control.
Lautenberg was first elected to the Senate in 1982 and retired in 2001, but regretted doing so and was re-elected in 2003, at the age of 84. Recently he had suffered health problems and announced that he would not pursue another term.
Speaking on gun control after Colorado theater shootings (Photo: EPA)
Lautenberg was considered one of the strongest supporters of Israel on Capitol Hill. He was previously head of the United Jewish Appeal and only last week was honored by the Hillel Jewish Student Union for his work for the Jewish people. He did not attend the ceremony due to health issues.
Lautenberg is survived by his wife, Bonnie, and four children from a previous marriage. US President Barack Obama issued a statement of condolence on the death of Lautenberg saying, "Michelle and I were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Senator Frank Lautenberg, a proud New Jerseyan who lived America’s promise as a citizen, and fought to keep that promise alive as a senator."
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