“The gloves are coming off — the point system is not enough,” said a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus yesterday on the issue of the diversity visa lottery being axed in the “gang of eight” immigration legislation.
“We’re having a press conference next week on diversity visas,” confirmed CBC Chair Marcia Fudge (D-OH) after the House completed their last votes Thursday. One member of the CBC stated this week that he will not vote for an immigration bill that does not include the diversity visa program.
According to the State Department, the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, “makes 50,000 diversity visas available annually, drawn from random selection among entries of individuals who are from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States.”
When the 800-page immigration bill was posted online earlier in the week, members of the Black Caucus were cautious before commenting on whether they thought the merit based point system could adequately replace diversity visas. But as the week went on, many members expressed increasing doubts.
At least 15 members of the Congressional Black Caucus are questioning why the 50,000 diversity visa program was ended in the “gang of eight” immigration reform bill formally introduced yesterday. Many members view the diversity visas as one of the few ways African and Caribbean immigrants can become American citizens.
At their Wednesday, Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY) briefed other members of the CBC on diversity visas and the “merit based” point system language in the immigration bill that is said to be a replacement to the diversity visa program. The diversity visa lottery was ended and replaced with a “point system” that evaluates immigrants on a merit based system. Education and ability to speak english, among other things, is used to evaluate an immigrant’s value to the U.S.
One member, Rep. Don Payne, Jr. (D-NJ) said early in the week that he will not vote for an immigration bill without the diversity visa lottery. “I’m not voting for it if diversity visas are not in there,” Payne said flatly. “I’ve told my constituents that unless the diversity visa lottery is in the bill that’s where I draw the line.” On March 15, Payne held a conference focusing on the concerns of Liberian immigrants on Capitol Hill.
Payne may not be alone. Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL) also says she is very unhappy that the diversity visa program was ended in the “gang of eight” bill. Members wondered why a program with 50,000 slots was eliminated when the larger issue is the 11 million people currently living in the U.S. undocumented.
“My question is why would you take it out? Tell me one good reason?” said Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL).
“African immigrants have the highest education skill attainment of virtually every other immigrant group that comes through the process now. We’re looking at the language and how it would affect the communities we’re concerned about,” said Rep. Steve Horsford (D-NV) on Wednesday as he commented on the merit based point system.
“The phasing out of the Diversity Visa Program is very troubling. At the moment, it is not clear whether the Senate bill includes an adequate vehicle designed to make sure that immigrants from underrepresented parts of the world have an opportunity to pursue the American Dream,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries in a statement today.
Asked if the diversity visa was “given up on,” by the gang of eight and why, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said “yes it was, we think we have provided other opportunities — depending on a person’s background or skills their relationships in the United States there are other opportunities.” Durbin was referring to a merit based system that appears in the Senate “gang of eight’s” immigration legislation.
“It turned out to be more controversial than — as a consequence we had to find another way to do it,” Durbin said when asked why the diversity visa program was ended in the legislation he helped write.
The NAACP is also questioning why diversity visas were eliminated.