The so-called Diversity Visa lottery has been in the news lately, not because it was a dumb idea to begin with, but because the State Department managed to screw it up and was forced to tell thousands of people who thought they had won one that they had not.
The real story isn’t that the State Department made a mistake. Rather, the real story is that the Diversity Visa lottery itself was a mistake – one that the House Judiciary Committee took a long overdue step to try to correct today. By a 19-11 vote on Wednesday, the panel approved The Security and Fairness Enhancement for America Act of 2011, H.R. 704. It’s just the first hurdle, but it is a noteworthy accomplishment nonetheless.
The very existence of the Diversity Visa lottery – first created by Congress in 1990 – is an admission that our current legal immigration system is unfair and serves no identifiable national interest. The late Sen. Ted Kennedy pushed the Diversity Lottery at a time when lots of Irish were clamoring to immigrate to the U.S., but couldn’t, because they were shut out of a system that favors family chain migration. Congress, in its infinite wisdom, decided that instead of putting everyone on a level playing field and ending family chain migration, they’d just heap another 55,000 visas on top of an already dysfunctional system and award them to people lucky enough to have their names pulled out of a hat. (Is it any wonder the country is in the shape it’s in?)
In the ensuing years, most of the visas wound up not going to Irish applicants because most Irish were busy enjoying the illusion of prosperity fueled by an even more disastrous real estate bubble than we experienced. Nevertheless, we continue to pick 55,000 new Americans whose primary qualification for admission is being able to fill out an application and lick a stamp.
If we really want a diverse immigrant flow and one that benefits our country, we’d scrap not just the Diversity Visa lottery, but our entire existing legal immigration system. In its place, we institute a system that selects a limited number of people based on an objective assessment of their likelihood to succeed in this country, and limit family reunification to spouses and minor children. That would be the “Dream Act” for most Americans. In the meantime, we can all take heart that at least one committee in one house of Congress is willing to admit that one component of our massive immigration system is a mistake and actually try to correct it.