The Irish, “Diversity Visas”, and the naturalization of Filipino WW II veterans


By Rodel Rodis

When an ISIS-inspired terrorist from Uzbekistan – who had immigrated to the US with his family 7 years ago – drove his van through a crowded bike path on Halloween night in New York City mowing down and killing 8 people, Pres. Donald Trump quickly blamed it on the Diversity Visa Lottery Program which had brought this Uzbek and more than 1 million immigrants to the US since its inception in 1990. Trump called on Congress to scrap the visa lottery program as well as the “chain migration” policy that allows US citizens to petition their siblings and married children.

Trump claimed the terrorist act was the result of the “diversary” visa program that has awarded lottery green cards to “low admission” countries that have produced less than 50,000 immigrants to the US over a 5-year period. The Philippines has been excluded from this program because it is considered a “high admission” country like Mexico and China.

But Filipino sentiment to scrap it may change if Filipinos learned that it was the diversity visa program that was the key to securing US congressional approval of the bill that finally granted US citizenship to about 30,000 surviving Filipino WW II veterans.

I learned about this lottery visa connection in the fall of 1989 when I was invited to speak at the San Francisco Irish Cultural Center about US immigration law. Two Irish American immigration lawyer friends thought it would be “a hoot” for a non-Irish immigration lawyer like myself to join them and be part of a panel that would answer immigration questions from the Irish community.

It was a crowded hall of over 200 people when I got there and it was a culture shock for me that many white people who were “illegal” and I was the only non-white person. The audience included the Irish consular staff who were there to provide assistance to their constituents.

In the course of the open forum, I learned that the Irish TNTs (Filipino slang for “illegals”) in the audience had entered the US with tourist visas or under a visa waiver program that allowed them to stay for no more than 90 days and that they had overstayed and worked without authorization. It was explained that while there were 20,000 immigrant visas allotted to the Irish – as there were to the Philippines and all other countries under the Immigration Act of 1965- the Irish could only use a quarter of those immigrant visas because all the family preference beneficiaries who qualified for petition had already been petitioned.

There were audience members who belonged to the Irish Immigration Reform Movement which had been lobbying Congress to “legalize the Irish” already in the U.S. and to make sure future visas would be reserved for the Irish.

It was from them that I learned that an Irish American congressman from Connecticut, Rep. Bruce Morrison, the chairman ofthe House subcommittee on Immigration, had proposed such a bill that would grant an additional 40,000 immigrant visas to the Irish.

But it was agreed that such a bill would never pass the US Congress. There was talk in the room that Morrison would not call it the Irish Green Card bill but present it as the Diversity Visa Lottery Bill that would create a new visa category of “diversity immigrants” granting 50,000 green cards a year to applicants from low admission countries like Ireland.

I learned that the Morrison bill had garnered the support of all the Irish legislators in the US Congress including Sen. Ted Kennedy, the principal sponsor in the Senate.

In her retrospective article about the Diversity bill, Carly Goodman of The Washington Post wrote (“In the 1980s, Diversity Meant More White Immigrants”, July 11, 2017): “Despite its name, the motivation behind the program came less from a desire to diversify the immigrant population than to whiten it.”

Goodman explained that the diversity lottery program was conceived as a way to address the complaints of some of the recent Irish undocumented immigrants who found themselves locked out without the fancy credentials or family connections required to immigrate legally. “Thus, when Congress created the Diversity Visa lottery in 1990, it did so mostly to benefit immigrants from European countries who had historically sent many immigrants but had recently sent few, like Ireland. But to make the program appear unbiased, they also included countries that had never sent many immigrants to the US,” she added.

To secure passage of his Diversity Lottery Bill, Rep. Morrison obtained the endorsement of his colleagues by including their pet provisions in was called the Omnibus Immigration Act of 1990.

Among the immigration bills incorporated into Morrison’s bill was H.R. 2407 co-sponsored by Rep. Mervyn Dymally (D-Los Angeles) and Rep. Tom Campbell (R-Palo Alto) that would “provide for the naturalization of natives of the Philippines through active-duty service in the Armed Forces of the United States during World War II.”

In the US Senate, Sen. Kennedy incorporated the Filipino Veterans Naturalization bill of Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D- Hawaii) who told him: “The Filipino WW II veterans deserve the opportunity to become citizens of the nation for which they put their lives on the line in defense of our principles of freedom and democracy.” Sen. Inouye was also the principal sponsor of the 2009 bill that granted lump sum compensation of $15,000 each for those commonwealth veterans who live in the US and $9,000 to veterans who live in the Philippines.

The Immigration Act of 1990 overwhelmingly passed the House and Senate and was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush on November 29, 1990. It increased total overall immigration to allow 700,000 immigrants to come to the U.S. per year, created five distinct employment based visas, categorized by occupation, as well as the diversity visa program which created a lottery admitting 50,000 immigrants per year from “low admittance” countries.

Most importantly for Filipinos, it included Section 405 which granted naturalization to Filipino WW II veterans. By 1998, over 28,000 of these surviving WW II veterans would become naturalized US citizens.

Two years after I spoke at that Irish Cultural Center forum, I was invited to attend a reception for Rep. Bruce Morrison at the Sheehan Hotel in downtown San Francisco. There I thanked Rep. Morrison on behalf of the Filipino WW II veterans. I recognized many of the guests at the reception as among those who attended the forum. They were now proud holders of Morrison diversity green cards.

Filipino veterans toast their glasses to the Irish and say “Mabuhay!” The Irish respond: “Sláinte mhaith!” (Good health!).

(Send comments to [email protected] or mail them to the Law Offices of Rodel Rodis at 2429 Ocean Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94127 or call 415.334.7800).