Congressional Committee Approves Bill to Eliminate the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program

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Yesterday the Judiciary Committee in the House of Representatives marked up H.R. 704, the Security and Fairness Enhancement for America Act of 2011, also known as the SAFE Act. Introduced by Representative Goodlatte (R-VA-6), the bill would eliminate the Diversity Immigrant Visa program, a Department of State initiative that increases the diversity of immigrant arriving to the United States every year. The program provides up to 55,000 diversity visas annually to individuals randomly selected from a pool of entrants who meet education and other work eligibility requirements.

In his opening statement, Rep. Goodlatte expressed concerns about the rate of fraud in the diversity visa program and denounced the program as a potential threat to national security. Ranking Member Representative Conyers (D-MI-14) countered by pointing out that if there are concerns about the diversity visa program, those flaws could be corrected without eliminating the program. Conyers also pointed out that eliminating the program would effectively discontinue immigration from specific countries where the majority of migrants obtain visas through the diversity program. For example, the elimination of the program would result in less African migrants coming to the United States in the future.

During the hearing, opponents of the SAFE Act questioned, “if the bill supporters support legal immigration, why can’t we find a way to address concerns with the program or re-allocate these 55,000 visas to address the lengthy visa family and employment-based backlogs?’ In many cases, U.S. citizens and green card holders must wait for years, even decades before being reunited with close family members. If a U.S. citizen is trying to reunite with his Filipino brother, the brother would not be eligible to come to the United States until the year 2034 – over 23 years from today. If a U.S. green card holder originally wants to reunify with her young child from Mexico, it would take over three years for the child to receive permission to travel to the United States.

LIRS is deeply concerned about the unnecessary separation of families, particularly when the families play by the rules yet are still separated for many, many years. Click HERE for more information from LIRS about family unity and the U.S. immigration system and HERE for a statement by LIRS and the Rev. Julian H. Gordy, Bishop of the Southeastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, in support of legislation to address the lengthy visa delays for families.

The Committee rejected all amendments and passed H.R. 704 with a 19-11 vote. The bill will now be reported to the House floor for consideration by the full body of the House of Representatives.

Carrie Tennant is LIRS’s Advocacy Intern.

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