Meaningful immigration reform starts with green-card lottery

Last week, the DREAM Act failed. Had it passed, young people in the U.S. illegally would have been able to acquire citizenship just by spending a couple of years in college.

President Barack Obama called the vote “incredibly disappointing.” He had pushed for the law, his spokesmen said, because it was an “education bill” that would bring “benefits to the country.” But Congress did not hold a single hearing where experts might have testified as to whether that claim holds water.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid championed the DREAM Act during his re-election campaign in Nevada and probably won critical Hispanic votes as a result.

But putting aside politics, Obama’s remarks carry the implication that U.S. immigration laws ought to benefit U.S. citizens.

So start with this: In the current era, why do we still maintain a “green-card lottery”? This year alone, a record 15 million people entered America’s luck-of-the-draw immigration program that offers a quick path to legal and permanent residence to 50,000 a year.

The “green-card lottery” was initially justified as yet another way to promote “diversity.” I agree that diversity is nice. I disagree that it should trump all other values. And does no one see a racist assumption behind the notion that we will not end up with diversity if we open our doors mainly to immigrants who have skills America needs and only to immigrants who are eager to embrace such American ideals as individual freedom, constitutional government and the rule of law?

I’m sure some of those who win the lottery make important contributions to their adopted nation. But not all. According to the State Department, those who come to the U.S. through the lottery receive the same stringent review as do other immigrants. But how stringent is that? Faisal Shahzad was naturalized as a U.S. citizen only months before he attempted to set off a bomb in Times Square.

Surely, as Obama suggested, Americans deserve an immigration policy that furthers the American national interest. Surely that means our lawmakers do not needlessly increase national security risks or further weigh down a limping economy.

Immigration reform should be a top-priority item for the new Congress. Almost everyone agrees on that. But would it not make sense to start with repeal of the green-card lottery, along with ramping up border security? Wise nations, like wise individuals, do not leave such critical issues to chance.

 

Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.

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