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Trump’s dishonest diversity visa lottery attack: Debate the merits of the program all you like but don’t lie about it

19 Dec

By Stephen Yale-Loehr, New York Daily News

President Trump has complained about the media’s use of “fake news” in a variety of contexts. But the President himself is using fake news to mischaracterize the diversity visa program. President Trump recently stated in Florida that foreign governments game the diversity visa program to let their worst citizens immigrate to the United States. That is false.

As background, Congress enacted the diversity immigrant visa program in 1990. The program uses a random lottery to issue up to 50,000 green cards a year to people from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. Millions of people apply annually for a chance to win a diversity green card.

To be eligible for the diversity program lottery, applicants must have a high school education or its equivalent or two years of work experience within the past five years. If someone meets those requirements and is chosen in the diversity visa program, they must go through an extensive background security vetting process called consular processing before they can come to the United States.

Among other things, a State Department consular officer must make sure the individual is not “inadmissible.” This means that the person has not committed a crime, doesn’t have a serious health problem, isn’t a terrorist, hasn’t committed fraud, and hasn’t overstayed in the United States before. There are more than a dozen grounds of inadmissibility.

The background security checks can take months. In fiscal year 2016, the State Department declared over 309,000 immigrant visa applicants to be inadmissible. We don’t know how many of those were diversity program applicants, or how many of them overcame the initial denial by applying for a waiver. But the statistics show that the State Department carefully vets all potential green card holders before allowing them to come to the United States.

Moreover, the diversity visa program is a true lottery. There is no way a foreign government can game the lottery to offload the worst of their citizenry. Applicants who commit fraud, say by applying more than once each year to increase their chances of winning, are barred from the program. The State Department has issued specific warnings against fraud in the diversity visa program. So even if a government tried to game the lottery, it should be caught.

Nor are diversity immigrants less skilled than other immigrants. According to a 2011 report from the Congressional Research Service, a higher percentage of immigrants who entered the United States through the diversity visa program had managerial and professional occupations than green card holders overall.

Specifically, 24% of diversity immigrants reported managerial and professional occupations in 2009, compared with 10% among all green card holders that year. Diversity immigrants also had a lower unemployment rate (3%) than all green card holders (8 percent) that year.

More recent data from the Department of Homeland Security’s 2015 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics show that 32% of those who came through the diversity visa program in fiscal year 2015 were employed in management, professional, and related occupations. Another 36% were students or children..

That’s far higher than the percentage of immigrants in those occupations who came via family-sponsored green card categories (12%) or among those who were granted green cards because they were immediate relatives of U..S. citizens (9%).

That year, 497 of the 47,934 diversity immigrants were listed as unemployed, or about 1%. That’s far lower than the percentage of unemployed people among all green card recipients (5.1%) that year.

It is fine to debate the merits of a diversity visa program. Perhaps a lottery isn’t the best way to select immigrants. But President Trump shouldn’t falsely claim that the program is riddled with fraud and losers as a way to justify ending it.

Yale-Loehr is Professor of Immigration Law Practice at Cornell Law School. He also is co-author of “Immigration Law and Procedure.”