Sunday, December 8, 2013
The Washington Post
For Olivier Millogo, there was one last chance to hit this year's jackpot.
He'd been lucky the first time in May, winning a prized slot in the State Department's "green card lottery" and a chance to live and work legally in the United States.
But twelve days later, the 36-year-old from Burkina Faso was crushed when federal officials discovered a computer problem with the drawing and canceled the results. A second drawing on Friday brought no good news for him.
"I'm not selected," said Millogo, who lives in Alexandria, Va., and is attending DeVry University on a student visa. "There is nothing to do."
A class-action lawsuit was filed to block the new drawing, but a federal judge dismissed the case, clearing the way for it. The decision dashed the dreams of 22,000 would-be winners from around the world, who had hoped the lottery's initial results would be reinstated.
The program they had applied for, the Diversity Visa Lottery, attracts millions of applicants worldwide and each year provides about 50,000 immigrants a legal route to permanent residency in the United States. The mix-up over this year's drawing comes as some lawmakers question whether it should continue.
Begun in 1995 with the backing of Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., the lottery is unknown to many Americans but has stood as a symbol of hope for millions seeking the opportunity to transform their lives. But it has been pulled into the larger debate over immigration, with critics saying it is rife with security risks and brings no benefits to the United States.
On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to discuss a bill to drop it.
"If you're a terrorist organization and you can get a few hundred people to apply to this from several countries . . . odds are you'd get one or two of them picked," Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., who introduced the bill, said in an interview.
An earlier version of the bill twice passed in the House in recent years but was rejected by the Senate in part, Goodlatte said, because of the support of Kennedy, who died in 2009.
But with high unemployment in the United States, he said, "it's hard to justify bringing an additional 50,000 in that need a job and will be competing with the 14 million Americans for jobs."
Supporters of the program say that lottery winners and their families undergo the same rigorous security screening as any other visa applicant and that the congressional hearing is a distraction.
"At a time when we should be focusing on our economy and how immigrants can play a positive role, the House is now simply taking cheap shots at legal forms of immigration," said Michele Waslin, a senior policy analyst at the Washington-based Immigration Policy Center. "Eliminating the diversity visa program will do nothing to fix our broken immigration system and nothing to grow our economy."
Last year, a record 15 million people applied for the lottery. Unlike other immigrant visas that require applicants to demonstrate close family ties, specific job skills or humanitarian need, the lottery is open to anyone who has completed high school, can pass criminal and security background checks, does not fall under any other inadmissibility in immigration law, and has not applied more than once for the same drawing.
Citizens of countries that already have large numbers of nationals in the United States, including Mexico, the Philippines and India, are not eligible. Also, no more than 7 percent of winners can come from one country in a given year.
Each year, 90,000 to 100,000 applicants are selected at random and may apply for the 50,000 available visas, based on the order in which they were selected. Qualified people on the list who are not selected before the year is up, or before the 50,000 visas run out, lose their slot and must start all over in a subsequent lottery - one reason that State Department officials urge people not to quit jobs or make other major decisions until they have a visa in hand.
Those who get the visas can move to the United States with their immediate families and eventually qualify for U.S. citizenship.
The problem with this year's lottery involved a mistake in the computer coding, which caused most of the original winners to be selected from among those who applied in the first two days of the 30-day application period, denying the remaining applicants an equal shot.