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Why the 2013 green card lottery will be a “go”

The green card (diversity visa) lottery begins in October 2013, but only if immigration reform fails to pass.
The green card (diversity visa) lottery begins in October 2013, but only if immigration reform fails to pass.

So far, no one is predicting the green card lottery, also known as the “diversity visa lottery,” will actually run this year. I believe it will. Here’s why:

The DV program awards 50,000 visas annually to citizens of countries that are underrepresented in terms of U.S. visas. For many, especially those from African, Middle Eastern, and Caribbean-base nations, this is their only chance to immigrate to the USA, since the majority of visas go to those with families already here or to those with special skills that qualify for other types of visas.

This popular program was eviscerated in S.744 as part of the bipartisan compromise on comprehensive immigration reform passed by the U.S. Senate in April. The next step is for the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives to take up the debate on immigration reform, which if passed, will terminate the lottery.

But what are the odds the House will introduce a bill before the start date of the lottery that simultaneously preserves a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants? Retaining this key provision is necessary before President Barrack Obama will sign the legislation.

The first reason the program should survive this year is because of the timing. The green card lottery open registration period is scheduled to begin sometime in early October 2013 and end in early November. (The State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs who administers this annual program does not release the exact start and end dates until September.) But the month-long Congressional August recess is fast approaching. Even President Obama does not believe the House will take up the debate until after the recess. This will give the House of Representatives only 30 days to propose, debate, and pass their more restrictive version of immigration reform before the lottery registration period is underway.

Second, many people believe the House will not do anything to support what conservatives derisively categorize as “amnesty.” And Tea Party conservatives and other right wing Republicans are unwilling to vote for virtually any legislation supported by President Obama, regardless of the greater good it represents for the country. Even worse, the Hastert Rule, if followed by House Speaker John Boehner, mandates that votes must have the support of “the majority of the majority” to even be considered. This would certainly not increase the chances of immigration reform passing, and thus ending the lottery.

The third potential roadblock is the piecemeal legislative approach threatened by some Republican leaders like Representative Robert Goodlatte (R-VA). This approach is virtually guaranteed to slow down the entire initiative or doom it entirely.

On the positive side, a Washington Post writer who just reported on an advance preview of the yet-unreleased House version of the bill, opines that it may be a reasonable compromise with the Senate version. According to Greg Sargent:

... the emerging plan could provide a test case, or an opportunity, for GOP leaders — such as John Boehner and Paul Ryan — to show they are prepared to lead on immigration by putting their weight behind a compromise proposal that has plenty both sides don’t like, and selling it to their caucus.

In the House version, they rename “provisional legal status” to “probation”, require that E-Verify is up and running in five years, and double the number of Border Patrol Agents.

But, what happens if Congress passes immigration reform after the lottery is underway? Will the State Department cancel the DV program in the middle of the registration period? That is another question entirely.

So if you are an aspiring diversity visa lottery entrant, what do you do? We will answer that in an upcoming column. Stay tuned.

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