House Immigration Subcommittee Considers Eliminating Visa Lottery
By Reynold N Mason
The House Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement held a hearing last week on a bill that would eliminate the controversial visa lottery program—The “Security and Fairness Enhancement for America Act of 2011” (SAFE Act)—eliminates the 55,000 “diversity” visas by striking Sections 201(a)(3) and 201(e) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
During the hearing, members of the Subcommittee expressed varying opinions about the utility of the visa lottery program. In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA), denounced the visa lottery as poor public policy. “U.S. immigration policies should be based on something more than just the luck of the draw. It should be secure, and it … should be beneficial to Americans. The visa lottery program is neither,” he said. Ranking House Judiciary Committee member John Conyers (D-MI) disagreed, calling the hearing an “attempt to eliminate the people … least likely to be able to come to this country.” Rep. Conyers also accused those voicing concern over the program of opposing diversity. “The question is, from my point of view, maybe the opponents of this program don't want diversity in the first place, and … it's not a very nice position to take,” charged Conyers.
Adding to the debate, several witnesses testified that the program gives rise to national security concerns. “Given the fact that there is no necessity for a family relationship, no necessity for a particular job skill, it is easy for an organization like Al Qaida to submit names,” said Rep. Bob Goodlatte, sponsor of the SAFE Act. “Yes, it's done at random, but you could submit lots of names from individuals who do not have terrorism records, that are young people, whose names could be drawn,” he added. Janice Kephart, former counsel to the 9/11 Commission, agreed, referring to the visa lottery as a “terrorist gamble.” “A successful application means an infiltration tactic with little oversight, a guaranteed visa, and permanent residency to those already in the U.S. or seeking entry from abroad,” said Ms. Kephart. According to her testimony, the four state sponsors of terror—Iran, Sudan, Syria, and Cuba—received a total of 2,588 visas or adjustments of status through the program in 2010.
Mr. Stephen Edson, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for visa services, also testified before the Subcommittee regarding the program’s susceptibility to fraud. “Because almost anyone can qualify for entry into the program,” Mr. Edson explained, “the cost of committing fraud in the category is quite low.” As such, applicants for the visa lottery, as well third-party brokers, commonly commit visa lottery fraud he said. He testified that fraud by applicants may include multiple entries into the program, false claims to education, employment, or financial support, and even “pop-up” spouses or family members. And, in the case of third-party fraud, Mr. Edson relayed accounts of consular officers discovering individuals (such as post office officials) conspiring to steal, provide to someone else, or hold hostage for a fee, documents that are supposed to go to winners of the visa lottery. “I believe that the SAFE for America Act will solve the problem of fraud in the visa lottery program, and the only way it's likely to work, is by eliminating it,” he asserted in his concluding remarks. If this bill passes it will be another door shut to prospective immigrants with no one to petition for or sponsor them.
******My thanks to the Federation for American Immigration Reform for the use of its legislative updates in preparing this article