There is a way — Congress willing — to ease some of the pressure on the southern border without increasing legal immigration to the United States by re-directing the allocation of the 50,000-a-year diversity lottery so that it nibbles at immigration from Egypt, Nepal, and Iran, for example, and increases legal migration from the Northern Triangle.
But it would not increase the total legal migration to the United States by a single person.
We are not particularly threatened by masses of illegal immigrants from, for example, Egypt, Iran, and Nepal, yet we are from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Meanwhile, the visa lottery is a senseless throw-away of 50,000 visas a year to people with no remarkable skill sets, and no particular connection to the United States. The program should be terminated, but as long as it's around let's see if we can put it to some use vis-a-vis the outward migration pressures from Central America.
Here is the distribution of the lottery visas for the three largest recipients in 2016:
- Egypt: 3,476
- Nepal: 3,242
- Iran: 2,883
Among the nations at the bottom of the list were these:
- Guatemala: 11
- Honduras: 4
- El Salvador: 0
My suggestion is that, in addition to revising the asylum program and taking a series of enforcement measures, we allocate 25,000 of the 50,000 lottery visas to the people of the Northern Triangle. The government's message would be:
“Stay at home and try to get one of the 25,000 visas open to people who are in the Northern Triangle (and who have not made a recorded effort to enter the United States illegally).
“Seeking to get into the United States illegally is a dangerous and expensive business. Why not take a chance the legal way — instead of risking your life at great financial cost.”
One would hope that the lottery prospects would keep far more than 25,000 people a year from seeking illegal entry. But even it did not succeed, nothing would have been lost. We would have the same annual legal flow of migrants, but from different parts of the world.
The scheme would also add a bit of velvet to the iron fist of America's current policy regarding this flow from the south.
The politics of this are a little more favorable than those of enforcement alone. There is a possibility that the Hispanic Caucus in Congress would get behind this legislation, along with the restrictionists — totally outweighing the efforts of the Egypt-Iran-Nepal lobby, which may or may not exist.
More specifically, I would suggest that the diversity lottery legislation be amended in a bill calling for three or four years of experimentation; at the end of those years Congress would be given the option of restoring the old system, keeping the new one, or (one hopes) dropping the whole program. The proponents of the old system would then have to secure congressional approval for a continuation of the program.
David North, a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, has over 40 years of immigration policy experience.
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by the Center for Immigration Studies.