Visa Lottery, Chain Migration Victimize Both Immigrants and Americans


November 20, 2017

By Dale L. Wilcox

These are not high times for the visa lottery and chain migration programs. In the wake of the Oct. 31 truck attack in New York City by a visa lottery recipient who brought 23 relatives with him to the United States, the programs have been flayed by critics as irresponsible gateways for dangerous individuals to enter the country and harm Americans. While that is a legitimate charge, the suffering caused by the programs extends far beyond the carnage inflicted as a result of terrorist attacks.

Those who cite compassion and human decency as reasons to keep the programs have apparently never looked into how these programs actually operate. If they did, they would find examples of fraud, abuse and exploitation brought upon the very people the programs were intended to help.

The Government Accountability Office in 2007 released a report to the House Committee on Homeland Security that is the most detailed analysis of the visa lottery program to date. It explains how many applicants to the program seek the assistance of the “visa industry” to apply. While some of the agents and consultants of this industry may be reputable, many are not. The report states that applicants “are sometimes extorted for large sums of money or coerced into sham marriages by unscrupulous entities in this industry.” U.S. embassy officials in Ghana and Bangladesh have reported that some visa agents in possession of a winning visa lottery letter will demand applicants pay them anywhere from $2,500 to $20,000 to emigrate. One can only imagine the unreported exploitation and human misery that can result from such arrangements.

For some, acceptance into the United States through its immigration system is akin to being thrown a life preserver. For others, it can merely be the final stop on a human trafficking train. The case of Akouavi Kpade Afolabi is a disturbing example of how loose immigration laws can result in nightmarish human rights abuses. A native of Togo, Afolabi was sentenced in federal court to 27 years in prison as the ringleader of a human trafficking operation in New Jersey in 2010. She and her husband preyed on women and girls in their homeland, some as young as 10 years old, using fraudulent passports, fake marriages, and chain migration to obtain more than 25 visas.

Once in the United States, the girls were forced to work more than 14 hours a day, six or seven days a week in two New Jersey hair braiding salons. The victims were required to turn over all their pay to their captors. They were rarely allowed to leave their residences, and were physically punished for breaking the rules. U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman at the time described the operation as a “modern form of slavery.”

To borrow a phrase from former President Obama, “that’s not who we are.” Such extreme cases highlight how U.S. immigration policy can inspire unspeakable crimes. Immigration itself is not what causes such abuses to take place. The blame for that should go to policies that broadly prioritize personal need and family connections over merit. If a merit-based immigration policy were implemented as the Trump administration has urged, human trafficking such as in the Afolabi case would be far less likely to occur. How compassionate is a system that enables human trafficking of children? It is bad enough that the visa lottery and chain migration yield arrivals who struggle to assimilate, often resulting in lives of poverty on government assistance. It is far worse that people, children in many cases, escape Third World squalor only to be the victims of criminal profiteers in America. To allow such policies to continue is cruel and the antithesis of compassion.

Even if our immigration system is improved, it is still reliant on the rest of the world giving us legitimate information on applicants. President Trump has said repeatedly that “extreme vetting” is needed for would-be immigrants from certain countries. While that is an idea grounded in common sense, it is complicated by realities on the ground in many places around the world.

Consular officers have reported that local documents are often unreliable for confirming the identity of applicants and searching for red flags in their backgrounds. In some countries, legitimate documents can be purchased with fraudulent information on them. Another strategy to defraud our immigration system is for lottery contestants to submit multiple applications under various aliases. An inspector general report found that a partial check of an immigration service center found 364,000 duplicate visa lottery applications. A 2007 GAO report said that while actions have been taken to shore up the visa lottery program, the State Department “does not have a strategy to address the pervasive fraud reported by some posts.”

Investigative reporting has revealed that the visa lottery and chain migration have resulted in the deaths of Americans and put millions more at risk. Open borders advocates should realize that the immigration system they seek would cause not only more loss of American lives, but suffering outside our borders as well.

Dale L. Wilcox is executive director and general counsel at the Immigration Reform Law Institute, a public interest law firm working to defend the rights and interests of the American people from the negative effects of mass migration.

Also published at: Dale L. Wilcox, The Visa Lottery and Chain Migration Both Give Americans the Shaft, The Hill, November 20, 2017

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