Jettisoning diversity visa program hurts African emigrants

The elimination of the State Department’s Diversity Visa (DV) program in favor of a “merit-based” system that favors high-skilled labor within the proposed Senate immigration bill and rumored priorities of House negotiators will disproportionately affect continental Africans. We understand and appreciate that the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and other representatives are well aware of this threat. We add our voice in support of your collaboration and cooperation to address it.
 
The Diversity Visa was instituted in 1990 to ensure that people, who would not otherwise have the opportunity to enter the U.S., are given the opportunity to realize their dreams while becoming economic, cultural, and spiritual contributors to the U.S. mosaic. Only 50,000 Diversity Visas are awarded each year—about 5 percent of all visas. Of those 50,000 visas, about half have benefited continental Africans in recent years. Under provisions of the proposed Senate immigration bill only approximately 10,500 of those 50,000 people will be protected. Under projected House provisions, few— if any—of them would be protected.
 

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According to a recent article by the Inter Press Service, since 2010 more than 20 percent of African nationals became permanent U.S. residents through the DV program. That makes the DV program the third most important means for Africans to enter the U.S. after family reunification and asylum claims.
 
Likewise, according to a 2011 report by the Migration Policy Institute, the highest percentage of African-born immigrants work in lower-skilled industries such as service, sales, administrative support, construction, extraction, transportation, manufacturing, installation, and repair (58.8 percent of African men and 46.7 percent of African-born women). Thus, the shift toward a system that favors high-skilled workers threatens the ability of tens of thousands of African nationals to enter the U.S. each year.
 
Further, we believe collaboration on the issue of immigration is an essential building block toward work on other issues of common concern between our communities, such as voting rights, education, and mass incarceration. All of these issues are bound together in our common pursuits of life, liberty, happiness, and equal protection under the law.
 
We are aware that there may be delicate issues surrounding the language of “diversity” in the Senate and House bills. We are open to creative solutions that continue to protect lower-skilled, continental Africans’ ability to enter the U.S. We can testify to the cultural, spiritual, and institutional impact of African immigrants on the mosaic of life in our communities and churches. We also want to remind legislators of the moral imperative to protect “the least of these” in any immigration bill that comes before Congress.
 
Continental Africans have borne nearly 300 years of extraction of human and material resources, more than 100 years of colonial rule, half a century of post-colonial corruption, and as many years plagued by wars as a result. These are certainly among “the least of these,” or the most vulnerable today, who Jesus preached about in his final sermon (Matthew 25:31-46).
 
We are praying for you. We know these choices are not simple or easy. We pray that your collaborative efforts will bear fruit for the sake of the dreams and livelihoods of these vulnerable ones. We stand with you in declaring: “Our nation must not trade the least of these for a bargain again—not on our watch.”
 
Williams Skinner is co-chair of the African-American Clergy Network. Salguero is president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition.


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