Does Representative Goodlatte Think “Safety” Is Just Keeping Out Immigrants?

Author: on 07/20/2011

Today, the House Judiciary Committee will mark up HR 704, the completely mis-named “Security and Fairness Enhancement for America Act of 2011.”  With that name, you would think the bill was many hundreds of pages of proposed changes to the court system, or enhanced funding for law enforcement, or at least dealt with the huge backlogs in the immigration adjudication system that were the subject of recent hearings before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee.  It’s not, however – the bill, introduced by Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), is little more than a page, and does nothing but cut the number of new legal immigrants to the United States by eliminating a small program known as the Diversity Visa.

To understand why we have a Diversity Visa program, you have to understand that nearly all of US immigration happens because prospective immigrants have either a close family member or employer sponsoring them to come to the United States.  A small program allows immigrant investors who open businesses and employ Americans to immigrate, and humanitarian immigration remedies admit some immigrants every year as refugees and asylees, but the vast majority come through close family relationships or a sponsoring employer.

This system favors, subtly, immigrants from countries which have already sent immigrants here, who have ties to other prospective immigrants in their home countries.  The Diversity Visa was created to allow an eager prospective immigrant who either knows a trade or has at least a high school education to have a chance, however small, of being able to immigrate without those ties.  I have worked with some remarkable clients who have immigrated through the Diversity Visa – a Romanian physician and her engineer husband; a German precision gear technician; a clinical trial auditor from Malaysia; and a Bulgarian physicist, for example.  Each for different reasons would have had a difficult time immigrating without the Diversity Visas they received, and they were all able to build productive careers here because of the Diversity Visa.

Rep. Goodlatte’s justification for eliminating the Diversity Visa program is that it poses a “national security threat,” although he does not make it clear how, exactly, the Diversity Visa program is threatening.  Diversity Visa immigrants pass through the same rigorous background screening process as all immigrants to the United States, and while they come from countries that send relatively few immigrants to the United States, all of those countries also send immigrants to the United States in other ways.  About half of selected potential Diversity Visa immigrants, according to the State Department, come from Africa; just under a third come from Europe; about fifteen percent come from Asia; and the balance come from smaller countries in Oceania; Central and South America; and the Caribbean.

Reasonable people may differ about whether a program like the Diversity Visa is a good way to select immigrants, and some may think those legal immigrants may be better selected through our other legal immigration programs for reuniting families or attracting needed skills.  The program could even be reformed to require a higher skill level, or as a pilot test of new immigration selection methods, like the point system used in some countries.  This bill does nothing for that debate, however.

Ultimately, Rep. Goodlatte has offered a bill which does only one thing – eliminates a legal immigration program which has allowed many good people to contribute to our social fabric. I hope none of us are fooled.


  1. LetsBeReasonable says:

    I agree with you that the DV lottery system is a nice simple way for a select few to immigrate to the USA without possessing anything more than a high school education, although I wonder if American’s interests are best served by bringing in more people with such a low educational level.

    Another argument is that the DV lottery helps ensure the “diversity” of the USA, but with so few selectees each year, the number of people who benefit from the program is a microscopic drop in the bucket compared to the vast numbers of immigrants who already live in the USA or who immigrate here legally through legal channels. Not to mention your own assertion that those who come to the USA via the visa lottery come from countries where (according to you) “all of those countries also send immigrants to the United States in other ways”.

    The downside of the visa lottery is all of the fraud associated with it. There are plenty of unscrupulous non-attorneys on the net who (for a fee) are eager enter people “currently within the USA” who if selected, cannot apply for adjustment of status from within the USA and who will find themselves facing a 3 or 10 year ban when they depart the USA in order to try to obtain a DV Visa at a U.S. Consulate abroad. I recall a woman who claimed to be a former employee at the National Visa Center who provided DV lottery entry service. When I contacted her to ask if she checks to make sure this type of entrant (currently in the USA) won’t face this problem (which would require her to practice law without a license) she of course did not reply. The DV Visa Lottery provides fertile opportunity for those out there who are willing to exploit potential immigrants for a fast buck.

    How about the DV participant’s themselves? How many don’t list their spouse on the form because they don’t want that spouse to be able to immigrate as well? How many falsely claim eligibility due to the spouse’s country of birth when that actually does not apply to the person? How many claim that high school diploma (or equivalent) when in fact that is a lie? How many, when selected, all of a sudden get married so that the newly minted spouse can also immigrate under the program (and how much money changes hands for that to happen)?

    While I understand and appreciate the theory behind the DV lottery, the fact is that it is a breeding ground for fraudsters who see it as a way to earn a fast buck, it is an easy opportunity for ineligible participants to attempt to lie their way into the USA, it imports the low skilled and uneducated into a country which already has plenty of that to go around (and not enough jobs for those already here), and according to you, really does not add to the diversity of the USA.

    What about the cost to the U.S. government (thus the U.S. taxpayer) in administering that program? Consular officers are expensive, not to mention the cost associated with processing the millions upon millions of entries (by state-side government workers) that pour in over the years.

    If our goal as immigration advocates is to advance the cause of meaningful immigration reform, how is that goal advanced by clinging to this outdated, antiquated, ineffective fraud prone program that helps very few people at a tremendous cost to the U.S. government?

    Come on, let’s be reasonable.

  2. LetsBeReasonable says:

    One final comment: In your article you point out that nearly all US immigration happens because prospective immigrants have either a close family member or employer sponsoring them to come to the United States.

    This naturally puts a limit on the number of people who can fall victim to fraud (and potentially limits the fraud committed by prospective applicants as well since family relationships and potential employment/skill sets can be verified).

    With the visa lottery, there is no such limitation. The sky’s the limit (so to speak). Unless you were born in one of the few ineligible countries (with traditional high levels of immigration… although the claim of cross chargeability fraud potential still exists) you can enter. In other words, every fraudster who enters people in the lottery has virtually the majority of the world’s population as potential “customers” (victims).

    As far as the potential harm done to the population of the world at large, the DV lottery reminds me of the concept of the “attractive nuisance” that we see in tort cases. As with other attractive nuisances, the government should either remedy the dangerous situation (which it probably can’t) or shut it down.

    That’s the reasonable thing to do.