The Price of the American Dream – Yemeni Diversity Visa Lottery Winners in Limbo
By: Yusuf Al Barzinji, ADC National Organizing Coordinator
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), National Immigration Law Center and Jenner & Block Firm, LLP filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia against the U.S. State Department. The lawsuit challenges the State Department’s adoption of a policy refusing immigrant visas to certain individuals who had been selected as diversity visa (DV) lottery winners based on the Executive Order (EO) banning Arab and Muslim travelers.
The lawsuit requests the court to issue an order requiring consular officials to fulfill their non-discretionary duty to approve visa applications and issue immigrant visas to those eligible individuals. The Plaintiff’s and members of their class are: a) individuals selected, or are the spouse or child of someone who has been selected, in the DV lottery and have submitted an application to receive a diversity immigrant visa, but has not yet received the visa; and (b) are subject to the EO and do not qualify for the “bona fide relationship” exception, and therefore are prohibited from entering the United States until the EO expires in late September 2017.
Since the implementation of the EO that targets six Arab and Muslim-majority nations, DV winners have either been outright rejected or held in administrative processing. Roughly 100 Yemenis are stranded in Malaysia, China and India with the future of their lives in limbo, clinging to the hope that consulates will allow them their fair shot at the American dream.
Edres Ali won the DV lottery in May of 2016, and traveled from Yemen with his wife and two young daughters to Guangzhou, China for his interview with the US Consulate:
I received an email from the embassy informing me that our case is under administrative processing. We understand how this process is sensitive and time consuming, but now it’s been around 250 days that we are still stuck (in China). I emailed them many times asking about the current status of the case, and their answer is always, “still under administrative processing.
Ali’s spirits have taken a toll as the prospect of his family’s admission to the U.S is becoming increasingly bleak:
I have a fear that our case will proceed with racial grounds
because of our nationality and religion. My dream and my family’s
dream of a better life has been destroyed by this “administrative process.”
Many have sold their homes, taken out loans and made the costly trip with their families to U.S. Embassies in Malaysia, India, China, and elsewhere, in the hope of being granted their DVs. In some instances, entire families except a child are approved for the DV, in which case a family will not abandon their child and must ultimately remain in uncertainty in the intermediary country.
Hamed Almaqrami, a first year PhD student, was studying in India when he was notified as being a DV winner. He went back to Yemen to collect his visa documents, and bade farewell to his family. Almaqrami set out to Malaysia for his interview, not knowing the troubles that lay ahead:
I dedicated all my time and effort for the sake of the DV, leaving my PhD program
as I was thinking I will soon be in USA and that I can get a better education there.
Now instead of focusing on my studies and thesis, the money that I borrowed is driving
my attention off track. Because of my absence when I was in Yemen, and the time that
I have spent in Malaysia for my interview, I have been told by my supervisor
that because of my absence I might not get my PhD degree on time.
The lengthy DV process, with some in administrative processing from 6 months to 1 year is daunting because their DV application expires on September 30, 2017. If visas are not granted by this date, Yemenis will be forced to return destitute and in debt to their families, friends, and communities. Many DV holders will remain stranded in foreign countries as they cannot even afford the costs to travel back home.
Numerous Yemeni Americans are voicing concern with the current DV process and advocating for the lawsuit. Vice President of the Yemeni American Merchants Association (YAMA), Zaid Nagi said:
The America I know doesn’t add to people’s suffering, nor does it stand between
people and their dreams. Most of the Diversity Visa winners are hardworking
hopefuls who invested their life earnings and most took loans to pursue an
opportunity to improve their lives and the lives of their loved ones and to finish
the stalled journey toward accomplishing their dreams. I hope America hasn’t changed.
Dr. Debbie Almontaser, ADC National Board Member and Board Member at Large for the Yemeni American Merchant Association, who was also lead the massive Yemeni bodega strike in New York City in February 2017, conveyed her experience:
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. I will tirelessly stand with them until they get the judicial relief they deserve.
ADC’s lawsuit against the U.S. Department of State seeks to prohibit the discriminatory refusal to issue diversity visas to individuals based on their national origin and religion. Administrative processing should not be used to run out the clock on DV issuance until the September 30 deadline. The State Department should not be allowed to steal individuals’ golden lottery ticket, their American dream.