Mr. GOODLATTE. Madam Speaker, I rise today to introduce the bipartisan ``Security and Fairness Enhancement (SAFE) for America Act.'' This much-needed legislation eliminates the controversial visa lottery program, through which 50,000 aliens are chosen at random to come and live permanently in the United States based on pure luck. The visa lottery program threatens national security, results in the unfair administration of our nation's immigration laws, and encourages a cottage industry for fraudulent opportunists.
Because winners of the visa lottery are chosen at random, the visa lottery program presents a serious national security threat. A perfect example of the system gone awry is the case of Hesham Mohamed Ali Hedayet, the Egyptian national who killed two and wounded three during a shooting spree at Los Angeles International Airport in July of 2002. He was allowed to apply for lawful permanent resident status in 1997 because of his wife's status as a visa lottery winner.
The State Department's Inspector General has even weighed in on the national security threat posed by the visa lottery program. During testimony before the House Committee on the Judiciary, the Office of Inspector General stated that the Office ``continues to believe that the diversity visa program contains significant risks to national security from hostile intelligence officers, criminals, and terrorists attempting to use the program for entry into the United States as permanent residents.''
Even if improvements were made to the visa lottery program, nothing would prevent terrorist organizations or foreign intelligence agencies from planting members in the U.S. by having those members apply for the program. As long as those individuals do not have previous criminal backgrounds, these types of organized efforts would never be detected, even if significant background checks and counter-fraud measures were enacted within the program.
Usually, immigrant visas are issued to foreign nationals that have existing connections with family members lawfully residing in the United States or with U.S. employers. These types of relationships help ensure that immigrants entering our country have a stake in continuing America's success and have needed skills to contribute to our nation's economy. However, under the visa lottery program, visas are awarded to immigrants at random without meeting such criteria.
In addition, the visa lottery program is unfair to immigrants who comply with the United States' immigration laws. The visa lottery program does not expressly prohibit illegal aliens from applying to receive visas through the program. Thus, the program treats foreign nationals that comply with our laws the same as those that blatantly violate our laws. In addition, most family-sponsored immigrants currently face a wait of years to obtain visas, yet the lottery program pushes 50,000 random immigrants with no particular family ties, job skills or education ahead of these family and employer-sponsored immigrants each year with relatively no wait. This sends the wrong message to those who wish to enter our great country and to the international community as a whole.
Furthermore, the visa lottery program is wrought with fraud. A report released by the Center for Immigration Studies states that it is commonplace for foreign nationals to apply for the lottery program multiple times using many different aliases. In addition, the visa lottery program has spawned a cottage industry featuring sponsors in the U.S. who falsely promise success to applicants in exchange for large sums of money. Ill-informed foreign nationals are willing to pay top dollar for the ``guarantee'' of lawful permanent resident status in the U.S.
The State Department's Office of Inspector General confirms these allegations of widespread fraud in a September 2003 report. Specifically, the report states that the visa lottery program is ``subject to widespread abuse'' and that ``identity fraud is endemic, and fraudulent documents are commonplace.'' Furthermore, the report also reveals that the State Department found that 364,000 duplicate applications were detected in the 2003 visa lottery alone.
In addition, the visa lottery program is by its very nature discriminatory. The complex formula for assigning visas under the program arbitrarily disqualifies natives from countries that send more than 50,000 immigrants to the U.S. within a five-year period, which excludes nationals from countries such as Mexico, Canada, China and others.
The visa lottery program represents what is wrong with our country's immigration system. My legislation would eliminate the visa lottery program. The removal of this controversial program will help ensure our nation's security, make the administration of our immigration laws more consistent and fair, and help reduce immigration fraud and opportunism.