Last Friday, July 15, District Court Judge Amy Jackson, from the District of Columbia, dismissed the case brought by the winners of the diversity visa (DV) program against the Department of State (DOS), after the DOS had canceled the results of the DV-2012 drawing due to a “computer glitch.”  Instead of randomly selecting “winners” of the DV-2012 program, the software selected 90% of the winners from only the first two days of the 30 day application period.  I was not surprised by the Court’s decision.  While some of the 22,000 individuals previously declared as “winners” were sorely disappointed, the cancellation did open up the hopes and dreams of 15 million applicants who had previously submitted their application but were not selected.  They now have a second shot at it.  Fair?  That depends on who you ask.        

However, I am not here to discuss whether the DOS should or should not have kept the results of the first drawing.  I want to talk about whether the U.S. should even have a DV program at all.  Let’s call it what it is – a visa lottery.  Winners get a chance to apply for U.S. permanent residence, or the “green card.”  The applicants not only don’t have to meet the difficult requirements of the “green card” process, they don’t have to wait in the quota line, which for citizens of some countries means a wait of years and years. 

The proper name of “Diversity Visa” implies that the program helps diversify the immigrant populations in the U.S.  The DV program makes 50,000 “green cards” available each year for citizens from qualifying countries.  Citizens from “overly-subscribed” countries, i.e. countries well represented by immigrants in the U.S., such as Mexico, India, China, etc., are not eligible to participate.  Because the intent of the program is to bring in immigrants from countries which are not well represented in the U.S., the requirement is fairly simple – a high school education is sufficient.  Of course, all “winners” must go through security clearance and be otherwise eligible to receive the green card.   

What’s the problem?   

There have been many calls to abolish the DV program, citing security and fraud concerns.  These concerns are not entirely without merit.  The DV program is open to many countries, including Sudan, Syria, Cuba, Yemen, Somalia, Iran, etc.  This sure makes some people uncomfortable.  But seriously, are all citizens of these countries threats to the U.S.?  All the winners must still pass U.S. security checks.  If the DOS is doing its job in vetting the winners, the DV program, security concerns are grossly exaggerated.  Frankly, I find it offensive to categorize all the people from one country as bad people and thus not deserving a chance to live productively and peacefully in the U.S.  Let’s think logically here.  If we cancel the DV program because Iranians or Yemenese can participate, you may as well cancel all visa, immigration, trade relations and other programs between the U.S. and these countries.  Let’s not yield to our fear and prejudice here.  If anything, the DV program should continue because it gives a chance to citizens of these countries who want to live in the U.S. and raise their families.  The DV program may be their only chance of getting out.    

The concern for fraud, however is legitimate and understandable.  Because the chance to immigrate to the U.S. is so highly coveted, there are illicit businesses that prey on the innocent and sell false hopes.  The DOS regularly posts warnings on its websites warning applicants not to pay money to participate in the DV program; participation is free.  Again, should we scrap the whole DV program because of unscrupulous people out there?  I do not think so.  The government does not cancel marriage-based immigration,  just because there are instances of marriage fraud?  The way to counter fraud is to educate the public, detect fraud, and punish the offenders – not to scrap the program.  

I am, however, a little bit concerned with the low threshold requirements.  Can a foreigner with merely a high school education “make it” in the U.S.?  Can he/she support his/her families in the U.S. with only a high school education?  What kind of life will they have here?  Poverty or near poverty?  Are taxpayers footing the bills if these new immigrants do not succeed and fall on hard times?  There are no statistics available from the State Department on how many of the DV winners came with only a high school education, and if they are tracked to see how well they fare well after they arrived in U.S. Hey, this is America! You work hard to make it work. Immigrants are expected to work even harder to make it. The American dream, for most people, is built on sweat and sacrifices. 

Like immigrants before them, participants of the DV program are trying to win a chance to “make it” in America.  The DV program is not perfect by any stretch of imagination, but it is a good program.  The hopes and aspirations of living and raising their children in the U.S. are cherished by millions who were not born in this great country.  A shot at the American dream?  I think that’s the spirit of the DV program, and I don’t have any problem with that!