Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee approved to go forward HR 704, the “Security and Fairness Enhancement for America Act of 2011.” With a name like that, you would think the bill was many hundreds of pages and proposed changes to the court system 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. 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.
The bill, sponsored by Intellectual Property Subcommittee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), was reported favorably to the House floor by a vote of 19-11. According to the Subcommitte, “This program is plagued by fraud and is an open door for terrorists.”
For a little background information, The diversity visa program was created in 1990 to increase diversity in the United States immigrant population by providing up to 55,000 greencard visas per year. Since they were first issued in 1995, over 785,000 diversity visas have been issued. Individuals who receive a diversity visa are free to petition for greencard visas for their family members.
When sponsoring the bill, Rep. Smith stated “This diversity visa program is better known as the visa lottery since thousands of immigrants are selected at random to receive greencards. Basing our immigration system on the luck of the draw is not smart immigration policy. It’s an open invitation for fraud and a jackpot for terrorists. While a small number of people who play the lottery actually win the prize, most people lose. With the visa lottery, the American people lose since U.S. immigration policy and national security are compromised.”
Rep. Goodlatte’s justification is that, “The visa lottery program poses a national security threat. Under the program, each successful applicant is chosen at random and given the status of permanent resident based on pure luck. This flawed policy is just foolish in the age in which we live. Those in the world who wish us harm can easily engage in this statistical gamble with nothing to lose. Our immigration policy should be based primarily on our national needs, security and economics and not in part on an arbitrary system, lacking even minimal checks.”
Rep. Goodlatte’s justification for eliminating the Diversity Visa program is that it poses a “national security threat,” but 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.
Many reasonable minds may differ about whether a program like the Diversity Visa is a good way to select immigrants, and some even believe 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 others will voice their own concerns over whether eliminating the Diversity Visa is really in best interest of our national security.