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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Location: Washington, DC




S. 1119. A bill to permit an alien to remain eligible for a diversity visa beyond the fiscal year in which the alien applied for the visa, and for other purposes; to the Committee on the Judiciary.

Mr. CHAMBLISS. Mr. President, today, I am introducing legislation to fix a problem that some of my colleagues have experienced in serving their constituents. Immigration case work is one of the top issues that my State offices handle on a regular basis. Occasionally, people who are in our country legally and playing by the rules can slip through the cracks as they wait on the immigration process to run its course. With the massive caseload handled by immigration services, there are bound to be mistakes, and this legislation allows the agency to remedy those mistakes in the limited situation of the Diversity Visa program.

The case of an Atlanta couple, Charles Nyaga and his wife, Doin, came to my attention about a year ago. Charles Nyaga, a native of Kenya, came to the U.S. with his family as a student in 1996, and he is currently pursuing a master's degree in divinity. In 1997, he applied for the fiscal year 1998 Diversity Visa program and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) selected him. In accordance with the Diversity Visa requirements, Nyaga and his wife submitted an application and a fee to adjust their status to legal permanent resident.

A cover letter on the Diversity Visa application instructed: ``While your application is pending before the interview, please DO NOT make inquiry as to the status of your case, since it will result in further delay.'' During the eight months that INS had to review his application, Nyaga accordingly never made inquiry, and he unfortunately never heard back. His valid application simply slipped through the cracks. At the end of the fiscal year, Nyaga's application expired, although a sufficient number of diversity visas remained available.

Nyaga and his wife took their case all the way to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. In a decision last year, the Court found that the INS lacks the authority to act on Nyaga's application after the end of the fiscal year, regardless of how meritorious his case is. The court even went so far as to note that a private relief bill is the remedy for Nyaga in order to overcome the statuary barrier that prohibits the INS from reviewing a case in a prior fiscal year. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up this case.

My legislation would overcome this statutory hurdle for Charles Nyaga, his wife, and others who are similarly situated. The legislation would give the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the opportunity to reopen cases from previous fiscal years in order to complete their processing. It is important to understand that this process would only be available to those individuals who have been here since the time they filed their claim. The bill would still give DHS the discretion to conduct background checks and weigh any security concerns before adjusting an applicant's status.

I look forward to working with my colleagues and with Homeland Security officials to pass this legislation this year. We must provide relief in these cases. I believe this targeted legislation strikes the proper balance to provide thorough processing of Diversity Visa applications while not compromising the Department's national security mission.

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