Groups File Federal Lawsuit Over Diversity Visa Denials

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 4, 2017

CONTACT
Hayley Burgess, NILC, 202-384-1279, media@nilc.org
Inga Sarda-Sorensen, ACLU National, 212-284-7347, isarda-sorensen@aclu.org
Yusuf Barzinji, ADC, 202-244-2990, yalbarzinji@adc.org

Groups File Federal Lawsuit Over Diversity Visa Denials

WASHINGTON — Groups filed a federal lawsuit today challenging the U.S. State Department’s refusal to process visa applications for winners of the U.S. Diversity Visa Program lottery who hail from the six countries covered by President Trump’s Muslim ban.

The lawsuit was brought by Jenner & Block LLP, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of the District of Columbia, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and the National Immigration Law Center. It was filed on behalf of lottery winners from Iran and Yemen, and charges the federal government with running afoul of federal law and regulations by refusing to issue visas to eligible winners.

The lottery program provides an opportunity to a limited number of immigrants from countries with historically low immigration rates to come to the United States. The randomly selected winners receive a visa, provided that they satisfy the eligibility requirements and qualify under the government’s general rules for visas. Only 50,000 diversity visas are awarded each year. Over the last 10 years, 16 million people on average have applied each year for the annual lottery.

The program requires consulates to issue visas to lottery winners no later than September 30, or the winners lose their chance to immigrate to the United States. The case filed today asks that the government process lottery winners’ visa applications by that date, as required by federal law and regulations.

Trump’s Muslim ban currently prohibits the entry of individuals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen who do not have bona fide connections to the United States (or who fall within another exception). The U.S. Supreme Court is poised to consider the ban’s constitutionality later in the fall in separate litigation.

The following statements are from:

Esther Sung, National Immigration Law Center. “The federal government made a promise to our plaintiffs and hundreds of others like them, and they put their faith in that promise. Now, thanks to President Trump’s discriminatory Muslim ban, the State Department is unlawfully backing away from that promise. This isn’t right, fair, or lawful, and we are willing to do what it takes — including going to court — to fight for the rights of our clients.”

Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “A winning lottery spot is a rare and precious thing. If our clients do not receive their visas by September 30, they lose what may be their only chance at becoming Americans. By refusing to issue their visas during the ban, the State Department is violating the law and threatening to run out the clock. While we look forward to demonstrating, in separate litigation, that the ban is unconstitutional and should be struck down, the government’s freeze on diversity visa applicants is unlawful and unjustifiable no matter how that case turns out.”

Samer Khalaf, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. “ADC’s lawsuit against the U.S. Department of State seeks to prohibit the discriminatory delay of diversity visa issuance to Yemeni nationals. The denial of diversity visas and lengthy processing is targeting Yemenis based on their national origin and religion. Administrative processing should not be used to wait people out and keep them from an opportunity for a visa they qualify for. This vile attempt by the Trump administration to refuse admission to those who have sacrificed everything for a better opportunity is uncalled for, and unacceptable. ADC stands with the Yemenis and all those who are affected. We will do everything in our power to see that justice is served.”

Dr. Debbie Almontaser, Yemeni American Merchant Association of New York. “After connecting with many of the diversity visa lottery winners in the last couple of weeks, their voices and stories remain etched in our minds. We are grateful that today the world will learn of their broken promise to the American dream. We will tirelessly stand with them until they get the judicial relief they deserve.”

Plaintiff Radad Furooz. “I sold everything I had to get the chance to travel to the USA. I have nothing and nowhere to go now. The executive order travel ban has destroyed my dreams.”

Scott Michelman, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU of the District of Columbia. “The State Department’s discriminatory visa denial policy goes beyond even the terms of Trump’s unconstitutional entry ban. The courts must uphold the rule of law and preserve visa lottery winners’ only realistic chance at someday becoming Americans — an opportunity that the federal government promised them and now is unjustifiably withholding.”

The case, P.K. v. Tillerson, was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, DC.

The complaint is available at www.nilc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/pk-v-tillerson-complaint-2017-08-03.pdf.

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