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A federal judge in Washington has reportedly ordered the Trump administration to temporarily resume issuing diversity visas to immigrants through a lottery system.
“To be clear, there is no statutory requirement that every available diversity visa be issued each year, ” U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta, an Obama appointee, wrote in in his decision on Friday, The Associated Press reported. “But that does not mean that the State Department could effectively extinguish the diversity program for a given year by simply sitting on its hands and letting all pending diversity visa applications time out.”
The ruling came in response to legal challenges against President Trump’s moves earlier this year to suspend the issuance of green cards and certain visas, including those for temporary workers. Trump in April announced a freeze on diversity visas that are awarded to up to 55,000 immigrants who come from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the U.S. The State Department had issued about 12,000 diversity visas for the 2020 lottery by the time of Trump's order, the AP noted.
Those who earn diversity visas must obtain a green card by the program's Sept. 30 deadline. While Mehta did not order a deadline extension, he called on the Trump administration to “undertake good-faith efforts ... to expeditiously process and adjudicate” this year's diversity visas.
Trump's April order had called for suspending diversity visas through the end of the year. The new order will apply to at least 918 visa lottery winners, the plaintiff's attorney, Curtis Morrison, told Bloomberg Law.
Mehta reportedly declined to block Trump's suspension of other visas, including H-1B visas that apply to skilled workers and are common in the tech industry.
Trump in June also issued temporary bans on H-2B visas, which apply to seasonal workers, and H-4 visas for spouses of H-1B visa holders. The administration said at the time that the orders were part of an effort to protect American workers amid the economic contraction caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump has repeatedly moved to implement restrictions to the U.S. immigration system during his time in the White House. In 2017, he claimed that U.S. officials were "picking the worst of the worst" for entry while calling for an end to the visa lottery.
Mehta cited those characterizations in his ruling, saying diversity visa lottery winners come to the U.S. seeking a "better life for themselves and their families." They don't deserve to be "caricatured as common criminals or to be used as a political wedge issue," Mehta said.
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