Let's Abolish the Casino Visas – a Bit of Targeted Immigration Reform

By David North on December 16, 2009

Restrictionists should call them Casino Visas, and the awarding body, the Visa Casino. The terms are equally as accurate as Visa Lottery, but the negative implications are – appropriately – stronger.

A good way to tackle the needless expenditure of up to 55,000 "diversity" visas each year is to use the congressional Floor Amendment as a technique for targeted immigration reform, the subject of an earlier blog. If a majority of the members of a legislative body favor a measure, even one bottled up in committee, they can often bring up the matter on the floor; this is usually done in the shape of an amendment to another bill.

As background on these Casino Visas, every year the croupiers at the State Department run a high-tech drawing for green cards. To qualify you must be an alien, a high school graduate or equivalent, and be a citizen of a country that routinely does not send us lots of immigrants. You can't use it if you are from Mexico, or China, or 17 other listed countries.

You can use it, however, if you are from, for instance, Nepal, or Chile, or, most pertinently, Ireland.

Why Ireland? Because about twenty years ago the Irish-American organizations noticed that the 1965 Amendments had both abolished the country-of-origin quotas that had been so kind to Irish immigrants in the past and had substituted a family-based allocation system which made it very difficult for modern-day Irish immigrants to come to the U.S. legally. Further, the IRCA legalization of 1986 had not done much for the Irish who were here illegally – none were farmworkers, and many had not been here long enough to qualify.

Now the Irish are a savvy group politically, and virtually all of them are voting citizens. Further, at the time both the chairs of the Senate Immigration Subcommittee, the late Ted Kennedy (D-MA), and of the House Immigration Subcommittee, then Bruce Morrison (D-CT), had many ties to the Irish community. In addition, the Speaker of the House at the time was Tom Foley (D-WA). Kennedy and Morrison were assisted on this issue by a skilled, non-Irish immigration lobbyist, Harris Miller, formerly counsel to the House subcommittee, who had been retained by the Irish Immigration Reform Movement (IIRM).

This trio concocted the Immigration Act of 1990 which, among other things, launched "...a three-year transitional [green card] visa program through which 48,000 visas were granted to Ireland, as well as the annual diversity visa lottery program which continued into the twenty-first century" according to IIRM.

The Casino Visas, or Diversity Visas (to use the government's term) have been attacked regularly over the years as a needless addition to the immigration system, one that provides no tangible benefits to any U.S. resident – no relatives for residents, no workers for employers.

One notable vote came on December 15, 2005, when HR 4437, the Border Security Act of 2005, was on the House floor. A floor amendment to kill the Visa Lottery was offered by Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R-VA), and supported by Rep. Stephanie Herseth (D-SD); it carried by a thumping 273-148 margin, with 57 Democrats backing it in a chamber dominated by Republicans. Interestingly, among the Democrats supporting the amendment that day were Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), the usually open-borders senior member of the House subcommittee, and Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), now the White House chief of staff.

Unfortunately HR 4437, though it made in through the House, died in the Senate.

This seems to be an excellent time to mount another attack on the Casino Visas. Very few Irish use the program anymore, as Ireland has become prosperous and now attracts immigrants. Sen. Kennedy is no longer with us. Rep. Morrison is no longer in the House, having given up a safe House district to run, unsuccessfully, for governor. Tom Foley has lost his seat. Harris Miller no longer works on Irish immigration issues and he, too, lost a state-wide bid; in his case it was for the Senate seat now held by Jim Webb (D-VA). And IIRM went out of business in 1992.

While the immigration bar and open-borders types can be expected to defend the Casino Visas, the critical mass that created the program is no longer active.

It is unlikely that any successful attack on Casino Visas can be mounted in either of the current House or Senate subcommittees, but it may well be an excellent time for another Floor Amendment aimed against the program. Messrs. Goodlatte and Berman, and Ms. Herseth, are all still very much in the chamber.