Last week, the U.S. Diver­sity Visa Lot­tery pro­gram suf­fered a com­puter glitch that resulted in the issuance and then sub­se­quent can­cel­la­tion of 22,000 visas. Here, Pro­fessor Rachel Rosen­bloom, an expert in immi­gra­tion law and policy at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity School of Law, weighs in on the recent visa snafu and related immi­gra­tion issues.

What is the Diver­sity Visa Lot­tery? Given the recent glitch, should it be replaced by a more reli­able system?

The U.S. Depart­ment of State’s Diver­sity Visa Lot­tery pro­gram pro­vides visas to per­sons who meet strict eli­gi­bility require­ments from coun­tries with low rates of immi­gra­tion. Issuance of a visa is based solely on national origin rather than on fac­tors such as family ties and skills.

While it was unfor­tu­nate that a com­puter glitch caused the ini­tial results of this year’s visa lot­tery to be inval­i­dated, this system failure is just one tiny part of the immi­gra­tion policy crisis America is facing. Con­gress must create a path to cit­i­zen­ship for the mil­lions of undoc­u­mented immi­grants who are part of our com­mu­ni­ties, working and raising their chil­dren in this country, and cut the wait time for people already approved for an immi­grant visa through family or employer spon­sor­ship. Also, the puni­tive immi­gra­tion laws that Con­gress enacted in 1996 keep many bona fide refugees from gaining asylum in the U.S. and bar immi­gra­tion judges from con­sid­ering indi­vidual cir­cum­stances in deciding whether a person should be deported, leading to the sense­less depor­ta­tion of many legal residents.

What role should fed­er­ally issued doc­u­ments play in defining what it means to be American?

Proving you are a cit­izen or an autho­rized immi­grant has become nec­es­sary in all kinds of rou­tine set­tings but on a cul­tural level, I don’t believe fed­eral doc­u­ments have any­thing to do with who is an Amer­ican. For example, the kids who have been fighting for pas­sage of the DREAM Act (a bill in Con­gress that would help some illegal alien stu­dents gain legal res­i­dency) embody every­thing that is inspiring about the Amer­ican dream. In pub­licly “coming out” about their lack of legal status, they are changing public per­cep­tions about undoc­u­mented immi­grants. Recent studies show that Amer­i­cans under the age of 18 are much less likely to sup­port immi­gra­tion restric­tions than their par­ents or grand­par­ents. Younger Amer­i­cans have grown up with immi­grants in their schools and com­mu­ni­ties and are there­fore not as sus­cep­tible to the demo­nizing rhetoric of the anti-​​immigrant movement.

How do immi­gra­tion laws help or hurt immi­grants in search of a better life in the United States?

Many immi­grants are strong and resourceful people; it takes a huge amount of courage to pick up your life and move to another country. But the immi­gra­tion bureau­cracy can be almost impos­sible to nav­i­gate, and a lot of people fall prey to scams. In addi­tion, the height­ened immi­grant enforce­ment over the past decade, com­bined with lax enforce­ment of the labor laws, has made immi­grant workers fearful of chal­lenging exploita­tive employers. Many nonci­t­i­zens put up with oppres­sive work con­di­tions due to the inse­cu­rity of their status or to unfa­mil­iarity with the lan­guage or legal system.