Sunday, July 17, 2011

‘Green card lottery’ future is in question

The Diversity Visa Lottery attracts millions of applicants worldwide and each year provides about 50,000 immigrants a legal route to permanent residency in the United States.

Begun in 1995 with the backing of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), the lottery is unknown to many Americans but has stood as a symbol of hope for millions seeking the opportunity to transform their lives. But it has been pulled into the larger debate over immigration, with critics saying it is rife with security risks and brings no benefits to the United States.

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to discuss a bill to drop it. “If you’re a terrorist organization and you can get a few hundred people to apply to this from several countries .... odds are you’d get one or two of them picked,” Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who introduced the bill, said in an interview.

An earlier version of the bill twice passed in the House in recent years but was rejected by the Senate in part, Goodlatte said, because of the support of Kennedy, who died in 2009. But with high unemployment in the United States, he said, “it’s hard to justify bringing an additional 50,000 in that need a job and will be competing with the 14 million Americans for jobs.”

Supporters of the program say that lottery winners and their families undergo the same rigorous security screening as any other visa applicant and that the congressional hearing is a distraction.

“At a time when we should be focusing on our economy and how immigrants can play a positive role, the House is now simply taking cheap shots at legal forms of immigration,” said Michele Waslin, a senior policy analyst at the Washington-based Immigration Policy Center. “Eliminating the diversity visa program will do nothing to fix our broken immigration system and nothing to grow our economy.”

Last year, a record 15 million people applied for the lottery. Unlike other immigrant visas that require applicants to demonstrate close family ties, specific job skills or humanitarian need, the lottery is open to anyone who has completed high school, can pass criminal and security background checks, does not fall under any other inadmissibility in immigration law, and has not applied more than once for the same drawing.

Citizens of countries that already have large numbers of nationals in the United States, including Mexico, the Philippines and India, are not eligible. Also, no more than 7 percent of winners can come from one country in a given year.

Each year, 90,000 to 100,000 applicants are selected at random and may apply for the 50,000 available visas, based on the order in which they were selected. Qualified people on the list who are not selected before the year is up, or before the 50,000 visas run out, lose their slot and must start over in a subsequent lottery — one reason that State Department officials urge people not to quit jobs or make other major decisions until they have a visa in hand.

Those who get the visas can move to the United States with their immediate families and eventually qualify for U.S. citizenship. “It can be a potentially life-changing moment,” said Crystal Williams, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Proponents say the lottery provides the United States with a more diverse mix of ethnicities and nationalities — and the occasional gem. Freddy Adu, the child soccer prodigy, came to the United States from Ghana at age 8 when his father won the lottery.


What's wrong with Britain's immigration system? Released on bail, the extremist who shouldn't be in Britain at all

An extremist who exposed gaping holes in Britain's border controls will be free to walk the streets after a judge granted him bail.

Sheikh Raed Salah entered the country last month despite an order banning him from doing so. He was eventually arrested and locked up but is using human rights laws to try to remain.

Now, in a further blow, the High Court last night released him from custody while his case is dealt with.

Salah, 52, who has been described in the House of Commons as 'virulently anti-Semitic', could be at large for months as the legal challenge makes its way through the courts. Lawyers for the leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel argued he did not pose a security risk and should be let out.

The Home Office opposed the application but Mr Justice Stadlen approved bail. Strict conditions attached are understood to include a ban on public speaking.

The Palestinian radical will also be fitted with an electronic tag and will have to comply with a 15-hour curfew between 6pm and 9am every night. He will also have to report to an immigration centre every day.

A Home Office spokesman said: 'We are very disappointed with the court's decision and will consider our options. We are still seeking to deport Salah.'

Salah was invited to speak in Britain in late June by a group of left-wing Labour MPs.

Home Secretary Theresa May issued an order banning him from entering the country but he waltzed through controls at Heathrow Airport. He was detained two days later after addressing a meeting of Islamic activists in Leicester.

Ministers say his presence is not 'conducive to the public good' and he should be deported. But his lawyers say his treatment is a breach of Article 10 of the Human Rights Act - the right to 'freedom of expression'.

He was held in Colnbrook immigration centre before being transferred to a prison in the Midlands. He is likely to be released on Monday.

Mrs May ordered a full investigation into how he was able to enter the country despite being on a 'no-fly' list. Theresa May ordered a full investigation into how he was able to enter the country despite being on a 'no-fly' list

Jewish groups reacted with outrage to his arrival. He is accused of making a string of extremist statements, but denies he is anti-Semitic. Among comments attributed to him are those casting doubt on Osama Bin Laden's culpability for 9/11, suggesting instead the attacks were an Israeli plot and that Jews were warned not to go to work at the World Trade Center on that day. He is also said to have accused Jewish people of using children's blood to bake bread.


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