The Corner

Politics & Policy

Can We Finally Get Rid of the Visa Lottery?

In his Morning Jolt, Jim Geraghty asks “What exactly did terrorist Sayfullo Saipov bring to the United States that we needed so badly?” The answer is, Diversity!

Saipov (whose first name, fittingly, is from the Arabic for “Sword of Allah”) seems to have come here from Uzbekistan through the Diversity Visa Lottery. The visa lottery was enacted in its current form in 1990 as affirmative action for white immigrants, who couldn’t qualify under the other categories because they lacked job skills or close-enough family – i.e., to “diversify” the immigration flow. It has since morphed into affirmative action for African and Muslim immigrants. It admits each year 50,000 immigrants (temporarily down from 55,000 for reasons too convoluted to bother with) from countries that don’t send many immigrants to the U.S.

Of course, the admission of one jihadi killer through this cockamamie program (several, actually) isn’t in itself enough of a reason to rid of it. But there are plenty more. (I recently did a quickie video on the lottery, and CIS analysis of it, going back decades, is here.)

From a security standpoint, the program admits a disproportionate share of immigrants from terrorist breeding grounds, and creates new migration networks from those places where none existed before. Looking at the 2015 green card data (the most recent available) shows the lottery accounted for less than 5 percent of total green cards issued that year. But the percentages of green cards from potential terror hotspots that were granted through the visa lottery are much larger:

(Immigrants from other terror hotspots, like Iraq and Somalia, are mostly refugees.) The problem here is twofold: screening and enclaves.

The lottery increases the size of precisely those haystacks where the terrorist needle is most likely to be found. As I noted in 2005 House testimony:

weeding out fraudulent lottery applications, and even processing legitimate ones, is a diversion for an agency that’s supposed to be identifying terrorists among the millions seeking to come to America. An internal audit conducted by the State Department in the 1990s characterized the visa lottery as a costly unfunded mandate that saps personnel resources.

But, as Andy McCarthy noted earlier, while screening out individual jihadis is important, “[t]he overarching threat is self-created: an immigration policy that promotes assimilation-resistant enclaves in which sharia supremacism embeds.” Along those lines it’s worth noting that Pakistan and Bangladesh used to qualify for the lottery because they sent few immigrants. But precisely because of the lottery, Pakistani and Bangladeshi immigration has now grown so large that people from those countries no longer are eligible to participate. Was it really wise policy to use the lottery to promote the growth of Pakistani enclaves in the United States?

If an Uzbek marries an American citizen, or a Turkmen Einstein gets a university appointment, great – we should welcome them warmly. But, even apart from its security vulnerabilities, the lottery is based on the absurd idea that foreigners from all countries deserve an equal opportunity to move here, and those who don’t qualify under existing categories must have a special one created just for them – affirmative action immigration, if you will, for Belarusians, Uzbeks, Iranians, Congolese, et al.

Fortunately, the RAISE Act, which the president has said would be part of his price for amnestying the DACAs, would abolish this travesty. Unfortunately, it appears that the Republican leadership is willing to amnesty the DACAs in exchange for nothing more than some “drones on the border” fakery.

Mark Krikorian, a nationally recognized expert on immigration issues, has served as Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) since 1995.

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