Today, the House Judiciary Committee will mark up HR 704, the completely mis-named “Security and Fairness Enhancement for America Act of 2011.” With that name, you would think the bill was many hundreds of pages of proposed changes to the court system, or enhanced funding for law enforcement, 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. It’s not, 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.
To understand why we have a Diversity Visa program, you have to understand that nearly all of US immigration happens because prospective immigrants have either a close family member or employer sponsoring them to come to the United States. A small program allows immigrant investors who open businesses and employ Americans to immigrate, and humanitarian immigration remedies admit some immigrants every year as refugees and asylees, but the vast majority come through close family relationships or a sponsoring employer.
This system favors, subtly, immigrants from countries which have already sent immigrants here, who have ties to other prospective immigrants in their home countries. The Diversity Visa was created to allow an eager prospective immigrant who either knows a trade or has at least a high school education to have a chance, however small, of being able to immigrate without those ties. I have worked with some remarkable clients who have immigrated through the Diversity Visa – a Romanian physician and her engineer husband; a German precision gear technician; a clinical trial auditor from Malaysia; and a Bulgarian physicist, for example. Each for different reasons would have had a difficult time immigrating without the Diversity Visas they received, and they were all able to build productive careers here because of the Diversity Visa.
Rep. Goodlatte’s justification for eliminating the Diversity Visa program is that it poses a “national security threat,” although 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.
Reasonable people may differ about whether a program like the Diversity Visa is a good way to select immigrants, and some may think 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 none of us are fooled.