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Is the State Dept. refusing to process diversity lottery winners?

Several immigrant advocacy groups have filed a lawsuit claiming that the State Department is deliberately delaying or denying applications by people who won the U.S. Diversity Visa Program lottery. The affected people are from the six majority-Muslim countries covered by President Trump's travel ban -- Iran, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Sudan and Somalia.

The travel ban bars entry into the U.S. by anyone from the six countries who doesn't have a bona fide connection to the U.S., such as a job offer or a family member. In separate litigation, the legality and constitutionality of the travel ban itself are being challenged and will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court this fall.

The Diversity Visa Program lottery is currently part of federal law. It gives a limited number of people from nations with historically low U.S. immigration to come to the States. As long as entrants satisfy specific eligibility requirements spelled out in federal law, winners of the lottery receive immigrant visas. Only 50,000 so-called diversity visas are awarded each year, even though of 16 million people apply annually, on average.

U.S. consulates are required to issue the visas to the lottery winners by Sept. 30 or those winners will lose their chance. That shouldn't be a problem, because federal law and regulations require the consulates to do so.

Unfortunately, it is a problem, according to the ACLU. The lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of Diversity Visa Program lottery winners from Yemen and Iran, says the State Department and consulates are unlawfully delaying and/or denying the visas.

"A winning lottery spot is a rare and precious thing," said a spokesperson for the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project. "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.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the diversity visa lottery winners by the ACLU, the ACLU of the District of Columbia, the National Immigration Law Center, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and the law firm of Jenner & Block LLP.

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