Category: Archive

Visa in the crosshairs

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

The application period for the visas, commonly referred to as Schumer Visas, runs until Dec. 4.
This year’s bath of successful applicants will be awarded the 2007 version of the visas, 50,000 of which are distributed annually to countries which the State Department determines are not already securing large numbers of immigrant places.
However, if House of Representatives supporters of the Security and Fairness Enhancement for America Act of 2005 — also called the SAFE for America Act — have any say, the 2007 batch of Schumers will be the last.
The bill, more commonly referred to as HR 1219, is primarily the work of Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican.
Its intent is mirrored in the Senate where the immigration bill proposed by Senators John Cornyn and Jon Kyl also advocates an end to the annual diversity visa lottery.
The House bill, which has gone from the House Judiciary Committee to the immigration sub committee and back to the full committee again, has 43 cosponsors at the latest count.
A couple of them are familiar to those who closely follow the immigration debate on Capitol Hill.
One is Rep. Lamar Smith from Texas, a veteran of immigration debates going back to the days of the Donnelly and Morrison visas, and Rep. Tom Tancredo, a Colorado Republican who founded, and chairs the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, a group that not only opposes any easing of penalties against illegal immigrants, but which also takes the view that legal immigration is far too high.
“Immigration reform is perhaps the most important challenge facing America. How America resolves this challenge will not only determine what kind of country America will be, but whether or not America will remain a country at all,” Tancredo said in a recent statement posted on the caucus website.
The primary goal of HR 1219, in its own language, is to “amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to eliminate the diversity immigrant program.”
The bill was introduced last March and was discussed at an immigration subcommittee hearing in May.
It was approved by the House Immigration, Border Security and Claims Subcommittee at the beginning of September.
Given its progress, it is no surprise that the bill is beginning to arouse criticism, as well as support.
Rep. Joe Crowley, described the bill as a piece of “close-minded” legislation.
The bill, said Crowley, did nothing to make U.S. borders safer, or to foster the American ideal of diversity.
Crowley said that supporters of the bill were incorrectly claiming that the diversity program was taking away from the annual number of family-sponsored visas issued by the U.S.
In reality, he said, the programs were separate and the elimination of the diversity scheme would just limit the overall number of immigrant visas available.
“This is not representative of the American ideals my parents sought when they came from Ireland years ago,” said Crowley, whose New York district is home to a large and diverse immigrant population.
During the subcommittee hearings last May, diversity visa advocates, including the New York-based Emerald Isle Immigration Center, argued that while the country’s immigration system did have parts in need of fixing, the diversity visa lottery wasn’t one off them.
The center expressed the view that the lottery was a positive contribution to America as it attracted “the best and brightest and those who really want to be here.”
Former Congressman Bruce Morrison, a onetime chairman of the subcommittee, also testified.
Morrison was the primary author of the Immigration Act of 1990, the bill that kick started the diversity visa program that later came under the wing of then House member and now senator, Charles Schumer.
The diversity program, said Morrison, had served the purposes for which it was created.
That purpose, he said, amounted to providing a counterbalance to a “concentration of source countries” for immigrants that resulted from family and employment-based immigration.
The program also created an avenue for legal immigration for those without pre-existing family or employment relationships in the United States.
“Those who do not much like immigration will certainly not like the diversity visa program, Morrison said at the hearing.
It was, he said, grounded in the belief that immigration had contributed to the strength of the United States and it sought to address some inherent weaknesses in relying solely on sponsorship of families and employers to provide the nation’s new immigrants.
Morrison made the point that the “de jure discrimination” in favor of the nationalities of longest presence in the country (Ireland being a key example) before immigration law was turned on its head in 1965, had been replaced with a “de facto discrimination” in favor of the nationalities most recently arrived.
Ireland would not now be included in such a group.
At the same time, the number of Irish applicants who have secured even diversity visas in recent years has been sharply sliding.
The 50,000 visas are chosen from a worldwide eligible pool of countries and the Irish application totals, amassed separately in both the Republic and Northern Ireland, have been swamped by applications from eligible countries with far larger populations.
This has led to some questioning in the Irish immigration advocacy camp as to how much effort should now be applied to fighting for the diversity lottery if push comes to shove.
“The numbers of visas secured by Irish applicants in the lottery have been disappointing in recent years,” said Tom Conaghan, director of the Irish Immigration and Pastoral Center in Philadelphia.
Conaghan said that an end to the diversity scheme would not be entirely a bad development if there was a change in overall immigration law that gave Irish applicants a better chance.
“In the meantime, it’s better than nothing,” Conaghan said.
“It’s doing its bit for us. It’s a lifeline for some people.”
At the same time, a lot of people in Philadelphia had “given up on it,” he added.
Conaghan said that undocumented Irish immigrants were avoiding the diversity program because even a successful Web-based application required a visit back to Ireland for an interview.
Such a journey, he said, posed a severe risk of the individual being slapped with the 10-year bar against returning to the U.S., the current penalty for being undocumented for more than one year.

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