Immigrating to the United States: One Man’s Story of Luck, Hope, and Perseverance

July 08, 2015

By Heather Stewart

Could you use an elixir for disillusionment with the U.S. political system or the hand-wringing about the future of the United States? Listen to “Abdi and the Golden Ticket,” a story broadcasted on NPR’s “This American Life” about Abdi Nor, a Somali refugee living in Kenya who won the DiversityVisa (DV) program lottery.

The goal of the DV lottery, when it was created by Congress in 1990, was to diversify the immigrant population by allowing people from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States to apply for one of 55,000 green cards available annually under the program. Unlike the vast majority of others who apply to live permanently in the United States, DV applicants aren’t required to have family already here or an employer sponsoring them.

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Each year, during a one-month filing period, eight to eleven million people apply. Let that sink in for a moment: in one month, eight to eleven million people enter a potentially life-changing lottery for the chance to “win” one of 55,000 green cards. Actually, they are vying for 50,000 green cards because 5,000 have been allocated for use under a different program, lessening their odds even further.

Winning the DV lottery is no guarantee of a future in the United States. As Abdi’s story demonstrates, it is only the beginning of what can be a harrowing, even dangerous path to life in this country.

As a matter of policy, some see it as illogical, if not absurd to grant green cards in this way. Others see it as a tiny way to tip the scales to help those who didn’t have the good fortune to be born in the United States or have access to the education that enables them to immigrate because an employer has sponsored them.

No matter what side you’re on, Abdi’s story is a fascinating glimpse into the luck and perseverance needed for the chance to live and work in America. Abdi’s excitement when he learns that he has won the Diversity Visa lottery is a humbling reminder of the hope many have about the opportunities this country offers, and his story is a sobering indication of the challenges of turning that hope into a reality.

If Abdi’s story and the story of millions of other hopeful immigrants makes you want to help fix our broken immigration system, e-mail your Senators and ask them to cosponsor the Immigration Innovation Act of 2015 (S. 153)!


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