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Lawsuit: Diversity visas denied to residents of travel ban nations

Several civil rights groups have filed a lawsuit claiming that the State Department is violating the law -- and the U.S. Supreme Court's interpretation of President Trump's travel ban. They claim the agency and its consulates are intentionally delaying processing of visas to winners of the Diversity Visa Program lottery. By delaying those visas, they're essentially denying them unlawfully.

"A winning lottery spot is a rare and precious thing. 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," said the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project director in a press release.

The Diversity Visa Program is a longstanding part of American immigration law. It allows people from countries that have historically been underrepresented in U.S. immigration to apply for an immigrant visa. Each year, an average of 16 million people applied. Only 50,000 diversity visas are issued annually.

Does Trump's travel ban authorize running out the clock on diversity visa winners?

The ACLU and other groups suing say no, and they have a strong point to make. As we discussed on this blog at the time, the Supreme Court ruled on the travel ban on an emergency basis in June. Rather than overturning the entire ban, the high court ruled that travelers from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen could be temporarily barred from the U.S. as long as they had no bona fide connection to an American person or entity.

The Supreme Court specifically stated that a bona fide relationship with an entity could be shown by eligibility for a visa based on a relationship to that entity. It's plausible -- if not probable -- that the high court would consider winning the right to a visa through the diversity visa program counts as a bona fide relationship to the U.S.

"We look forward to demonstrating, in separate litigation, that the ban is unconstitutional and should be struck down," says the ACLU, but "the government's freeze on diversity visa applicants is unlawful and unjustifiable no matter how that case turns out."

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

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