For many years now the primary focus of the immigration debate in this country has been on comprehensive reform, the presence of millions of illegal and undocumented men and women, the border and better ways to seal it. Not a lot of attention has been focused on the process of legal immigration and the people who are arriving in America with the right papers, and hopes in their hearts that have a well, hope, of being fulfilled.
But in the last few days we have been hearing from those outside, at least a portion of them.
The DV diversity visa program, often referred to as the Schumer visa program, has projected itself over the horizon as a result of a cock-up at the State Department in which computer generated letters informed 22,000 applicants around the globe, Ireland included, that they were among the lucky ones and had qualified for a chance at the American dream.
Only problem was the chance was just as quickly taken back when it was discovered that there had been a glitch. Now there is uproar, a class action lawsuit, and even an injunction bid aimed at preventing the current phase of the diversity scheme from proceeding to its next stage.
You have to be impressed. Millions of people around the world still want to come to an America which is unable to provide work for millions of Americans.
And we should take that in the right spirit because the desire for an American life the world over is what actually created the American life in the first place.
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The Wall Street Journal, a champion of a better American life if ever there was one, ran a story last week about the diversity brouhaha.
Stuart McBrien was included in the report. He is the Country Antrim native who currently lives in London with his wife and who felt like his ship had come in big time when the got the thumbs up letter from the State Department – only to find out later that his American dream was just that.
“The U.S. immigration system is weighted disproportionately toward uniting families, which results in a high percentage of people coming from Latin America and Asia. For the first four years after the Diversity Visa Program was passed by Congress, it favored the Irish. In 1995, it was expanded to accept entries from everywhere except countries already heavily represented in the U.S. immigrant pool,” the Journal report noted.
Of course, after that change in 1995, the Irish were pushed to the margins as Irish applicants were swamped by millions of other applicants from countries around the world competing in an open pool for 50,000 of the 55,000 annual visas – 5,000 of which were reserved for applicants from war-stricken El Salvador.
Nevertheless, and again according to the Journal report, the lottery has succeeded in its goal of diversifying the immigrant population, this according to an April report by the Congressional Research Service.
“In 2009, for example, 49 percent of lottery immigrants came from Africa, which contributed only 11 percent of the total 1.1 million legal immigrants to the U.S. that year.”
“It is the only purely democratic way a person can legally come to the United States other than being sponsored by a relative or employer,” Mark Jacobsen, an immigration attorney in Haleiwa, Hawaii, told the Journal.
But while there is altruism at the core of the diversity program, it has also been prone to fraud.
U.S. officials cite the likes fake marriages, false birth certificates and phony high-school records.
“In past years,” reported the Journal, “some brokers who helped people fill out an entry used their own address on the application and then extorted money from winners or sold a winning number to another individual. It’s the reason this year, for the first time, individuals were notified electronically of the results, rather than by mail.”
In the case of the 22,000, of course, mistakenly notified.
Continued the Journal: “The recent lottery snafu renews questions about whether the current U.S. immigration system is outdated. A majority of lawmakers and the business community have long argued that the current system, last reformed in 1990, doesn’t meet the needs of the 21st century.”
After the glitch, the State Department posted a video on its website in which Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Donahue delivered an apology.
“Regrettably,” he said, “the results that were previously posted on this website are not valid because they did not represent a fair, random selection of the entrants, as required by U.S. law.”
The glitch itself has been described by Donahue as “a small coding error.”
What had happened was that winners had been selected from a pool that had applied over just a couple of days, not the few months open to applicants. So with millions of later applicants excluded from the “random” selection process, they would be in a position to argue that the selection wasn’t fully representative, ergo not random at all.
The 22,000 might argue that it’s impossible to state that they wouldn’t have been selected anyway, though obviously their odds of securing a visa would have been much longer if they were competing in the eventual full pool of applicants – all 15 million of them.
Los Angeles attorney Kenneth White, who is representing those of the 22,000 that have signed on to the class action suit, argues that the U.S. government has broken a promise. He’s hopeful for a settlement out of court, but that could only be, presumably, confirmation that the 22,000 will be allowed lay claim to their American dream after all.
That there is a small number of Irish involved in the suit is no surprise. Their disappointment is well understandable.
But they represent only a small percentage of a far larger number of Irish who are shut out of the U.S. and have even less hope of securing legal entry by way of current law than they do even by means of the annual scramble that is the diversity visa program.
There are some in Congress who would scrap the diversity program entirely, some who see it as a model for the nation’s overall immigration system.
Either way, it has been a lifeboat for some Irish, but a cause of deep frustration for many, many more. Right now, for a few, frustration has boiled over to the point of seeking legal address.
It’s hard to imagine a happy ending to all of this.