We must keep our promise to Diversity Visa Lottery Winners

By Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) and Eddie A. Taveras, opinion contributors — 08/27/21 02:00 PM EDT 127 The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

In just a few short weeks, thousands of aspiring immigrants, invited to come to the United States through the Diversity Visa Program, could see their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity disappear forever.   

Harmful, anti-immigrant restrictions on immigration have prevented many qualified individuals, including an estimated 40,000 diversity visa winners, from receiving the visas they were promised. Even more, immigrants were denied or delayed because of additional immigration bans and processing delays throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. At the end of this fiscal year, thousands more who have been unable to claim their diversity visa will lose their eligibility, and their shot at building their family’s future in America

Noha is an engineer from Egypt who was given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come to New York through the Diversity Visa Program in 2020 along with her family. However, due to the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant restrictions, she was unable to immigrate to the U.S., harming Noha and her family. Unfortunately, Noha’s story is similar to many other diversity visa winners who had this opportunity stripped from them. 

The Biden administration ended the Muslim ban, but the harm caused by Trump’s policies remain. Seven months into his tenure, many diversity visa winners who were previously denied are still unable to receive their visas. The current group of lottery winners will lose their opportunity unless they are able to receive their visas by Sept. 30. If this does not occur, they will be forced to restart the entire process with a less than 1 percent chance of being selected again. This is unfair, wrong, and needs to be mediated.

The U.S. government traditionally awards as many as 55,000 green cards annually through the Diversity Visa Program, established as part of the Immigration Act of 1990. Applicants are selected from countries with a low number of immigrants over the previous five years in an effort to increase diversity across the nation. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 alone, over 23 million people applied for the program, lured by the once-in-a-lifetime promise of fulfilling the American dream. 

Recently, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordered that the State Department issue nearly 10,000 diversity visas from 2020. However, that decision will only help a small share of all people who have been harmed by these policies. Congress can address this problem and provide justice and certainty to these families right now by passing the Keeping Our Promise Act (H.R. 3584), or including it in the final reconciliation package. This legislation would aid the almost 40,000 individuals who were denied visas because of COVID-19 travel restrictions and the previous administration’s immigration bans. The bill would preserve their visa eligibility, ensuring they have the opportunity to come to the U.S. that was promised to them. We can help rectify the wrongs committed by the Trump administration and bring humanity and civility into our immigration system. 

The Sept. 30, FY 2021 deadline is quickly approaching, and Congress needs to act soon. If we want to be known as a nation that keeps its word, we should start by fulfilling our promise to diversity visa winners who meet the requirements and who should not be penalized for the politics of Washington. Failure to provide diversity visa winners with the opportunity to take advantage of this program is not only unfair, but it harms our economy and communities. We must act swiftly to right this wrong and strengthen the country in the process by passing the Keeping Our Promises Act as a stand-alone, or include it within the final reconciliation package.

Ritchie Torres represents New York’s 15th District, and Eddie A. Taveras is the New York State Immigration Director for FWD.us.

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