3Qs: Reflecting on a crisis in immigration policy

Photo by David Leifer

Last week, the U.S. Diversity Visa Lottery program suffered a computer glitch that resulted in the issuance and then subsequent cancellation of 22,000 visas. Here, Professor Rachel Rosenbloom, an expert in immigration law and policy at Northeastern University School of Law, weighs in on the recent visa snafu and related immigration issues.

What is the Diversity Visa Lottery? Given the recent glitch, should it be replaced by a more reliable system?

The U.S. Department of State’s Diversity Visa Lottery program provides visas to persons who meet strict eligibility requirements from countries with low rates of immigration. Issuance of a visa is based solely on national origin rather than on factors such as family ties and skills.

While it was unfortunate that a computer glitch caused the initial results of this year’s visa lottery to be invalidated, this system failure is just one tiny part of the immigration policy crisis America is facing. Congress must create a path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants who are part of our communities, working and raising their children in this country, and cut the wait time for people already approved for an immigrant visa through family or employer sponsorship. Also, the punitive immigration laws that Congress enacted in 1996 keep many bona fide refugees from gaining asylum in the U.S. and bar immigration judges from considering individual circumstances in deciding whether a person should be deported, leading to the senseless deportation of many legal residents.

What role should federally issued documents play in defining what it means to be American?

Proving you are a citizen or an authorized immigrant has become necessary in all kinds of routine settings but on a cultural level, I don’t believe federal documents have anything to do with who is an American. For example, the kids who have been fighting for passage of the DREAM Act (a bill in Congress that would help some illegal alien students gain legal residency) embody everything that is inspiring about the American dream. In publicly “coming out” about their lack of legal status, they are changing public perceptions about undocumented immigrants. Recent studies show that Americans under the age of 18 are much less likely to support immigration restrictions than their parents or grandparents. Younger Americans have grown up with immigrants in their schools and communities and are therefore not as susceptible to the demonizing rhetoric of the anti-immigrant movement.

How do immigration laws help or hurt immigrants in search of a better life in the United States?

Many immigrants are strong and resourceful people; it takes a huge amount of courage to pick up your life and move to another country. But the immigration bureaucracy can be almost impossible to navigate, and a lot of people fall prey to scams. In addition, the heightened immigrant enforcement over the past decade, combined with lax enforcement of the labor laws, has made immigrant workers fearful of challenging exploitative employers. Many noncitizens put up with oppressive work conditions due to the insecurity of their status or to unfamiliarity with the language or legal system.