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Americans Lose in the Visa Lottery

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee voted 19-11 to pass Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s (R-VA) SAFE Act to abolish the Diversity Visa Lottery. The bill will now go before the full House.

Most Americans do not even know that we have a lottery to give out Visas, but the rest of the world knows. In 2009, more than 15 million applications for the Visa Lottery were filled online. The only requirement is a high school diploma or some equivalency. The immigrants are selected by simply put the applications in a lottery. 50,000 Diversity Immigrant Visas are then granted random chance.

John Conyers (D-MI), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, decried the SAFE Act because the “diversity program has always been an important part of our immigration system," noting that it is the major source for African immigration.

In reality, the lottery is only 25 years old, and was never meant for African immigrants. The Lottery was created in 1986 under the guise of giving visas to Irish illegal aliens who were largely ineligible by the 1986 Amnesty. For years it was known as the “Irish Program.” However, as Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies explains,

“Nonetheless, the lottery — like many other federal programs — has taken on a life of its own. It has evolved over the years, and now offers a maximum of 50,000 visas per year to people from ‘underrepresented’ countries, i.e., all the nations of the world other than the top dozen or so sources of immigration.1 In practice, this means that most visa lottery winners come from the Islamic world and sub-Saharan Africa.”

Ultimately, our immigration policy is simply a question of how many people we let into the country and how to choose them. Personally, I believe that we should choose those who are most likely to contribute to American society and assimilate into our common culture. Some argue that we should base it more on humanitarian concerns or those who have family members here. Regardless of your view, simply awarding residency and eventually citizenship by the luck of the draw is absurd.

There are other serious concerns with the Visa Lottery.

First, it is a major national security risk. Terrorist supporting countries such as Iran, Sudan, Syria are among the countries that receive the most visas. Mohammed Atta, the mastermind behind the 9-11 terrorist attacks applied for the visa lottery at least once, and by luck, he was denied. However, we were not so lucky with other terrorists.

Hesham Mohamed Hedayet who shot up Los Angeles International Airport in 2002, killing two people and wounding four others, would not have been allowed into this country had he not “won” the visa lottery. Other terrorists such as Detroit sleeper cell member Karim Koubriti were allowed into this country on a Diversity Immigrant Visa.

Additionally, the Visa Lottery encourages illegal immigration. Illegal aliens who have already broken into this country can apply for legal citizenship through the diversity lottery without even returning to their nation of origin.

The Diversity Visas Lottery is also ripe for fraud. The Wall Street Journal reported that one man entered the drawing 2,800 times last year. He was caught and denied consideration, but amazingly, he is still allowed to reapply the next year.

Finally, every single immigrant who comes to this country on Diversity Immigrant Visa is given a permanent work authorization. While these visas are less than 5% of the total number of green cards issued each year, that is still 50,000 jobs that could be going to American citizens.

It’s long past time that America ends the lottery. I applaud the House Judiciary Committee for taking this important first step and urge the rest of the House and the Senate to follow their lead.

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