Friday, August 27, 2010

The strangest line in US immigration law

Take a look at Section 132(c) of the Immigration Act of 1990 (emphasis mine):
(c) DISTRIBUTION OF VISA NUMBERS- The Secretary of State shall provide for making immigrant visas provided under subsection (a) available in the chronological order in which aliens apply for each fiscal year, except that at least 40 percent of the number of such visas in each fiscal year shall be made available to natives of the foreign state the natives of which received the greatest number of visas issued under section 314 of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (or to aliens described in subsection (d) who are the spouses or children of such natives).
This begs the question: which foreign state received the "greatest number of visas issued under section 314", qualifying it for fully 40% of visas issued under this statute in fiscal years 1992 through 1994?

Ireland. The text of the Act obviously avoids mentioning the country by name, but as Anna Law explains in her article on the history of the visa lottery, the handout to Ireland was no accident. Apparently in 1990 there was still a substantial number of undocumented Irish immigrants in the United States. The visa lottery was primarily an attempt to legalize this population and restore the flow of legal immigrants from Ireland, who had difficulty competing with Asians and Latin Americans through the standard channels. To ensure that Ireland—and other supposedly disadvantaged European states—received the intended benefits, the bill's sponsors inserted a three-year transitional period that gave special visas to "adversely affected" states, most of which were located in Europe. 40% of these visas were reserved for Ireland specifically.

That's right: the "diversity" visa was originally a ploy to bring more white people into the country.

But here's the wonderful part. Since the visa's proponents felt compelled to disguise their handout as part of a general attempt to increase diversity, the visa they designed ultimately became a legitimate source of diversity. In 2009, the 5 largest sources of diversity visa immigrants were Ethiopia, Nigeria, Egypt, Bangladesh, and Uzbekistan. Immigrants from countries without a large preexisting population in the US—traditionally a group with no legislative voice whatsoever—were the unlikely beneficiaries of a bill intended to favor established ethnicities.

It's... oddly heartwarming?

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