Black lawmakers and civil rights groups are concerned by a proposal in the Senate’s immigration reform bill that would do away with diversity visas that are often a pathway for African and Caribbean immigrants to enter the United States.
Advocates said they haven’t seen evidence yet that a new merit-based program is an acceptable replacement for the diversity visas, which total 55,000 each year and are granted through a lottery.
Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP Washington bureau, said he is telling lawmakers not to eliminate the diversity program when comprehensive immigration reform moves forward.
“At this point, we are urging lawmakers not to eliminate the diversity visa program,” Shelton told The Hill. “This is one of the places in the bill that needs to be addressed. We will work with our friends in the Senate, and we have started working with our friends in the House as well.”
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), co-chairman of the immigration task force for the Congressional Black Caucus, called the Senate bill “a significant step in the right direction,” but said his caucus is also worried about the plan to eliminate diversity visas.“With respect to the abolishment of the diversity visa lottery program, the CBC is extremely concerned that it might limit the future flow of immigration for people from certain parts of the world,” Jeffries said. “That’s troublesome, and we’re evaluating the merit-based visa proposal to determine if it’s fair and balanced.”The diversity program makes 55,000 visas available each year to countries with low immigration rates to the United States. Those awarded the visas are chosen by a lottery, with about half typically going to African immigrants.Republican lawmakers have targeted the program in the past for elimination, arguing the program’s lottery system can lead to fraud and undermine national security.