NAACP pushes for 'diversity' visas

The NAACP and other groups representing African-Americans are lobbying Congress to prevent a reduction in “diversity” visas, many of which are granted to people from Africa and the Caribbean.

The groups are worried the 55,000 visas made available every year under the program could be reduced — or even eliminated entirely — given opposition to the program from key Republicans.

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“The face of immigration is not just brown,” said Bertha Lewis, president of The Black Institute. “We have got to be really visible and loud on this because they are coming after the diversity visa program.”

Advocates worry the diversity visas will survive the Senate, but will come under attack in the House.

“I do believe folks are working really hard on this Senate bill, but in my opinion, when it comes out of the Senate, it is going to be attacked by folks in the House,” Lewis said. “There are going to be folks who dig their heels in. One of things they are going to try to gut is diversity visas.”

The House approved a bill last year that eliminated the program despite opposition from the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and other Democrats. The bill died in the Senate.

The diversity visa program makes 55,000 visas available to countries that have low immigration rates to the United States. Applicants are randomly selected, but about half go to immigrants from Africa, highlighting their importance to the CBC.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) will have a major role in this year’s debate since his panel has jurisdiction on immigration reform. He’s supported legislation in the past to reduce the diversity visas, arguing immigration shouldn’t be a “luck of the draw” system.

“It’s clear that there are better ways to allocate visas than to randomly give them out through a lottery system,” Goodlatte said in a statement. “Our immigration laws shouldn’t be based on the luck of the draw; rather, they should be designed strategically to benefit our country.”

The NAACP argues the program ensures a path to the United States for immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean.

“The creation of the diversity visa program was to alleviate the de facto quota, a low number for immigrants coming in from the Caribbean and Africa among other places,” said Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP Washington bureau, who said he’s been meeting with White House aides and lawmakers to discuss immigration reform.

The bill approved by the House last year would have replaced the diversity visas with 55,000 green cards, which were to be issued each year to immigrant graduates with master's or doctorate degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) from U.S. universities.

House Democrats countered with their own bill to keep the diversity visas in place, but to add STEM visas.

Tech groups backed both STEM green card efforts, but not at the expense of diversity visas.

“Not our fight. We are advocating for green cards for more STEM workers. How they do that is above our pay grade,” one tech lobbyist said.

Diversity visas represent just a part of the lobbying effort on immigration by the NAACP and other groups representing blacks.

Shelton said the NAACP wants to increase visas and expedite the process to reunite immigrant families.

"Family reunification is crucial," Shelton said. "Family visas are absolutely crucial for immigrants, whether they are from the Caribbean or Africa."