Civil rights groups sue State over visas

Civil rights groups sue State over visas
© Greg Nash

Civil rights groups are suing the State Department for refusing to process visa applications for winners of a federal visa lottery program that are from the six countries included in President Trump's travel ban.

Jenner & Block LLP, the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of the District of Columbia, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the National Immigration Law Center brought the lawsuit against Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonPompeo sees status grow with Bolton exit Trump blasts 'Mr. Tough Guy' Bolton: 'He made some very big mistakes' Fox's Cavuto roasts Trump over criticism of network MORE on behalf of U.S. Diversity Visa Program lottery winners from Iran and Yemen.

The groups claim Tillerson issued an illegal policy when he directed consular officials to deny visas to lottery winners following the Supreme Court’s decision in June, which reinstated Trump’s ban on nationals from Iran, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Libya from entering the U.S. unless the individual has a “bona fide relationship” with a person or entity in the U.S.  

The groups argue the order bans entry into the U.S., not visa issuance.

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“Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, possessing a visa does not automatically entitle one to entry; and conversely, being subject to a temporary suspension of entry does not make one ineligible to receive a visa,” they argued in court documents.

“Nor is the issuance of a visa during a temporary suspension of entry pointless, as the visa could be used to enter the United States once the temporary suspension on entry is lifted.”

The lottery program awards 50,000 visas annually to immigrants from countries with historically low immigration rates. The winners are randomly selected provided they satisfy the eligibility requirements and qualify under the government’s general rules for a visa.

The civil rights groups are urging the court to act quickly and stop the State Department from enforcing its policy.

“For the affected lottery winners, the stakes are high and the situation is urgent: By statute, lottery winners must have their visas in hand by September 30, 2017 or they lose their chance to become Americans,” the groups said.

Though Trump’s travel ban is slated to expire on Sept. 24, the groups said it is “highly doubtful” the lottery winners from these countries will be able to have their visa applications reconsidered and issued in time.

“And if their visas are not issued by September 30, 2017, their slot in the diversity visa program will expire and they will need to reenter the lottery—with a vanishingly small chance of winning a second time,” the groups argued.