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A closer look at the Diversity Visa Lottery

Posted at 1:46 PM, Nov 03, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS -- Seven years ago, Zachary Gakunga Wahome was living in Kenya with his wife when he got a call that changed his life.

He had applied for the Diversity Visa Lottery program and won.

Now, Gakunga is living the American dream in Indianapolis.

"I was so overwhelmed, it felt so good," Gakunga said. "I told my wife and I could not believe it."

Launched in 1990, the Diversity Visa Lottery is a small part of the overall immigration system.

Up to 50,000 people can get a visa to America through the program. The visas are randomly selected from people from places that don't otherwise send many immigrants to the United States.

It was established in 1990, as part of the Immigration Act. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was one of 31 co-sponsors at the time.

But the program's critics, including President Donald Trump, say it could be used as a tool for terrorism.

"Following the terrorist attack in New York I'm calling on Congress to immediately terminate the Diversity Visa Lottery program," Trump said. "It's a disaster for our country."

Through the lottery program, immigrants can get legal permanent residency -- often in less than two years.

Unlike other immigration programs, lottery participants don't have to have close relative living in the U.S. or any special skill.

There are very good aspects of the program because you're allowing people a chance who may not otherwise have a chance," said Jeffrey Papa, an immigration attorney. "[But] it could be used by foreign service intelligence agencies or people with nefarious purposes."

Gakunga said if the program ends, the U.S. is slamming the door on his loved ones in Kenya, who apply every year in hopes of being accepted. 

"Sincerely speaking, it's kind of disappointing and heartbreaking," he said.

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