Some are challenging a way to get more diversity into America’s immigration flows

May 15, 2009

Lawmakers challenge diversity visa lottery
By Patrick McGee
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Monday, August 7, 2006

The U.S. Senate wants to change a way 50,000 immigrants enter the country each year. The House wants to eliminate it.

Beatrice Kibibi was leery when she received a letter from the U.S. government at her home in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The 39-year-old couldn’t imagine what American officials wanted.

She recalls thinking, “Maybe it’s a commercial — they want to sell me something.” Instead, Washington was giving her something she wanted very badly, something she had applied for: a permanent visa to live in the United States. What’s more, her husband and children could immigrate with her. They could stay as long as they wanted and could eventually become U.S. citizens.

“I was so happy,” said Kibibi, who now lives in Roanoke with her family.

Kibibi won entrance to the U.S. in the diversity visa lottery, a program a U.S. Senate immigration bill would change and a House immigration bill would abolish.

About 50,000 of these visas have been granted every year since 1995 in a program aimed at bringing in people from countries that have not sent large numbers of immigrants to the United States.

People from countries that send many immigrants, such as Mexico and China, cannot apply for the program. About 4 percent of people who received permanent resident status in 2005 were diversity visa lottery winners, according to the Office of Immigration Statistics. More than 5 1/2 million people applied for the lottery this year, according to the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs.

But the future of the program is now unclear.

The immigration bill approved by the Senate in May would require that two-thirds of the visas be set aside for people who have certain graduate degrees.

The House immigration bill, which passed in December, would simply eliminate the program.

Congress has not been able to resolve the differences between the bills.

U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg, R-New Hampshire, introduced the amendment that would give preference to people with graduate degrees in math, science, technology and engineering.

“If we’re going to have a lottery system, why don’t we actually apply it to people who we actually need in this country to assist us in being a strong nation?” Gregg said in a statement. “We are not producing enough people in the sciences which are energizing economic activity in this world.”

U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, offered the amendment to abolish the program.

A statement from Goodlatte’s office said the arbitrary visa lottery is a security risk. It pointed out that the program benefited Hesham Mohamed Ali Hedayet, an Egyptian who shot two people dead and wounded three in 2002 at Los Angeles International Airport. He was shot and killed by a security officer.

Hedayet earned permanent visa status because his wife won the diversity visa lottery, but according to a 9-11 Commission staff report, Hedayet was already in this country when his wife won the lottery.

Alejandra Corsiglia said eliminating the program would only promote more illegal immigration because so many people want to come to the U.S.

Corsiglia, 42, won the visa lottery in 2003 and came here from Argentina with her husband and their son and daughter. She applied for the lottery because she and her family wanted to flee the South American country’s failing economy. They now live in Allen.

Corsiglia said she was unsure at first about coming to the United States because she had heard bad things about it from other Argentines. She said many Argentines developed a bitter view of the U.S. after constantly hearing government officials blame Argentina’s troubles on the International Monetary Fund. The U.S. is the most influential member of the IMF, which offers loans to countries in economic trouble — often tied to requirements for economic reform.

But Corsiglia heard a different view of the U.S. when she talked to an Argentine friend living in Texas, who told her: “You don’t know what you have. You have a big prize in your hands.”

The family of four said coming to the U.S. was the best decision they ever made — even though they said they once “hated” America.

“As soon as we arrived, we realized we were wrong, and we were really ashamed,” Corsiglia said. “We were wrong. I don’t know what we were thinking.”

The family said they were stunned by helpful neighbors, supportive co-workers, friendly store clerks, customer service and the efficient American system in general, which seemed to benefit people who did their part.

Corsiglia’s 20-year-old daughter, Florencia, said she was amazed to see cars move out of the way when an ambulance had its sirens on. Corsiglia’s husband, Marcelo Arrechea, 44, could not believe there was no need for bars on windows.

“It’s like a fairy tale,” Corsiglia said. “Sometimes we wake up, and my husband says, ‘Can you believe that we are living here?’”

All four said they want to be U.S. citizens.

Kibibi’s husband, Eric, became a citizen on July 11. He also expressed deep gratitude for being in the United States.

“Now I’m an American, and I love this country,” he said.

Eric Kibibi, 40, said he hopes the diversity visa lottery will continue because it helps so many people.

He and his wife wanted to get their family out of the central African nation because it was badly torn by warring factions. Hearing gunfire was common, and they once went without electricity for three weeks.

“For me it was just peace, peace for my family,” Eric Kibibi said, explaining his reason for wanting to flee.

The Kibibis said their children panicked when they first heard fireworks in America. They thought a war was breaking out.

Eric Kibibi said his friends in Congo did not believe he was going to the U.S. Now they apply for the diversity visa lottery every year.