lottery winner3.jpgDespite all the post-election talk of a chastened GOP promising flexibility on comprehensive immigration reform (CIR), Republicans seem more determined than ever to reduce the number of green cards issued annually.  They would do so by eliminating the Diversity Visa lottery.  Their latest ante is a miserly family-unity sweetener to the failed STEM bill which would additionally benefit a population presently comprised of about 320,000 individuals — family members of “green card holders who marry after getting their residency permits”. In return for dropping the DV lottery, the GOP’s new proposal would let these family members “come to the U.S. one year after they apply for their green cards,” but would not let them “work until they actually got the card” — years later.

The annual 55,000 green-card DV lottery — which I’ve criticized as a program “[relying] on casino-style randomness as the basis to sprinkle green cards on a lucky few” — now upon further reflection seems to me as a category worth saving. 

Readers of this blog know that I’ve challenged the notion that the government is particularly good at picking immigration winners and losers. Don’t get me wrong.  I’m all for allowing talented university graduates with degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math to get accelerated green cards. Still, some of the greatest success stories from American history (from Washington, Lincoln, Edison, Carnegie and the Wright brothers) and our own era (Jobs, Gates, Dell, Puff Daddy, Lady Gaga and Jessica Simpson) never even graduated from college

So while we fashion a 21st Century CIR program to serve America’s clear national interests, we should also acknowledge a degree of humility, and the benefits of randomness, chance and serendipity. We can never develop a flawlessly intelligent system that brings in just high-contributing immigrants.  But we can debunk the errant myths about immigration and humbly acknowledge that great achievers arriving in America can come in through other than the employment-based visa categories.  Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google, came with his parents to America from Russia as a refugee, much like Tech CEO, Tan Le, fled Vietnam for refuge in Australia, and then immigrated to California: 

In the same serendipitous way, the DV lottery brings in immigrants who tend to be younger and from countries with low rates of green card issuance. Some of them, or their children, achieve success in their chosen endeavor, whether that be in soccer, or, in helping American children understand one of the world’s great religions, or, like two of my clients who won the DV lottery — a Japanese MBA graduate of Stanford, or a political opponent of an oppressive Middle Eastern regime — they achieve it by enriching America in lasting, immeasurable ways.

Proponents of an expansive form of CIR should therefore remind the Democrats to continue standing firm against the GOP’s latest proposal to cut green-card quotas.  For as the Dems’ former leader, Richard Gephardt, has noted: “Those who have prospered and profited from life’s lottery have a moral obligation to share their good fortune.”