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Good News from Federal Court for Diversity Lottery Winners

Little latino boy holding an American Flag

The U.S. Department of State, in an effort to increase the diversity of immigrants who reside in the country, selects 50,000 people to come to this country from a number of countries that don’t send large numbers of immigrants to the United States. This is done through the Diversity Visa program lottery. The diversity lottery is just what it sounds like: people are selected at random (by computer), and they and their immediate families are given the opportunity to become lawful permanent residents: green card holders.

All it takes to enter the lottery is filling out a relatively simple form online, and it doesn’t cost anything. For families and individuals who might not otherwise be able to legally immigrate to the United States, the lottery is their best hope of coming to this country.

Trump Proclamations Barring Some Foreign Nationals

The Trump administration threw up a roadblock to the American dreams of diversity lottery winners by issuing proclamations in April and June of this year. Those proclamations barred citizens of certain foreign countries who had applied for work visas and green cards from their home countries from entering the United States. The Trump administration argued that the travel restrictions were a necessary response to high unemployment rates in the U.S. due to the pandemic.

A number of lawsuits were filed by over 1,000 American citizens opposing the proclamations and bar. The plaintiffs in the cases (which were consolidated) included U.S. citizens with relatives abroad, employers based in the U.S., foreign citizens who had been approved for temporary work visas, and winners in the diversity lottery. They argued that the President had exceeded his authority in making the proclamations and preventing their entry into the U.S.

Opposition to Proclamations Heard in D.C. District Court

The plaintiffs in the consolidated cases argued that the Trump proclamations were unconstitutional, but Judge Amit Mehta of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia disagreed. He based his decision in the U.S. Supreme Court of Trump v. Hawaii, which upheld a travel ban and asserted that the President of the United States may bar foreign nationals from entering the country if he finds their entry "detrimental to the interests of the United States." Based on this reasoning, the judge did not find the April and June proclamations unconstitutional.

Even if, as the plaintiffs asserted, the president were acting on "plainly false pretenses" in insisting that immigrants would replace American workers, Judge Mehta argued that it was the role of Congress, not the court, to address the wrong.

That said, Judge Mehta did accept a different argument regarding the diversity lottery winners. The plaintiffs claimed that the State Department based its decision to stop processing the visa application on the President's orders. The orders prevent the foreign nationals from entering the U.S through the end of 2020. But they did not require the State Department to stop or slow the issuance of visas. The judge accepted the plaintiffs' argument that the State Department had gone outside of the normal rule-making procedures to enact a policy of stopping the processing of visas.

No Justification for State Department to Halt Visa Processing

The judge pointed out that the State Department had not presented any justification for the suspension of visa processing for the diversity lottery winners. Immigration law requires that diversity lottery winners who do not receive their visas by September 30 lose them altogether. Stopping or slow-walking the visa process, therefore, essentially cancels the lottery program for this year by running out the clock.

While the judge recognized that the visa seekers other than the diversity lottery winners might well prevail on their claims against the State Department, he declined to grant relief through the courts. As to the lottery winners, Judge Mehta ordered the State Department to update the court on September 25 as to how many diversity visas have not yet been issued. The court may order the government to reserve diversity visas that were not timely processed in 2020 for 2021.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs were pleased with the positive outcome for the diversity visa lottery winners, though dismayed that the family visa plaintiffs did not receive the relief they were seeking from the court.

If you have questions about what the outcome in this case will mean for you or for your family members seeking a visa or work authorization, please contact our law office to schedule a consultation. We look forward to working with you.

Categories: Immigration Law