Amidst Global Crises, US should honor its commitment to Diversity

Across the globe there are multiple crises of political and ethnic sectarian conflict and strife. These, along with the Coronavirus pandemic and its economic aftermath,  are leading to overall global instability. With one of the worst global refugee crises in history, Biden has promised to end Trump’s restrictions on refugees and yet with the political and humanitarian crisis in Cuba, Biden’s secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, who is of Cuban heritage, flat out told the Cuban as well as the Haitian people not to come to America. The Biden administration’s rhetoric may echo that of Trump rather than the image put forth by the mainstream media of President Biden being the antithesis of Trump especially on matters regarding immigration.

The reality is that the Biden administration, like past administrations, has only shown interest in humanitarian crises in other nations if they directly impact US geopolitical interests. The humanitarian crisis in Cuba is obviously important to US geopolitical interests, but there are ongoing crises in South Africa, Lebanon, and Armenia, that have been mostly under-reported by the mainstream media, and disregarded by policy-makers.

The civil strife in South Africa broke out fairly recently, starting out as a protest against the prosecution of former prime minister Jacob Zuma but has morphed into greater tribal conflict that has been exacerbated by the economic fallout of the pandemic. Primarily in Durban but spreading to other parts of the nation, there has been looting, violence, and severe disruptions to supply chains, with long queues for food and petrol, with the danger of total economic devastation looming.  

What is most disturbing and underreported is the racial basis to the looting and violence, primarily directed against the Indian community in Durban, and against White South Africans in Durban as well. Farm murders against Afrikaners have been a major problem in South Africa and there has been an overall trend of racism and discrimination against all of South Africa’s minorities including Coloureds,Indians, Anglos, and Afrikaners, as well as various immigrant communities from across Africa and Asia.  Beside the rise of racism, the one party ANC regime in South Africa has failed to maintain a cohesive and tolerant nation and there are concerns that the nation is on the brink of civil war. With the potential for a humanitarian catastrophe, there has been a massive interest in people looking to leave and the US must look into fast-tracking visas for minorities from South Africa who are facing racism.

With the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, Biden has promised immigrant visas for interpreters but, like Trump, has been slow in helping them putting many in danger. Biden has also failed to address the degree to which many minorities such as Nuristanis, Hazaras, and Tajiks are in the most danger from Taliban control. While I understand concerns about carefully vetting immigrants from the majority population, there is no excuse not to fast-track visas for minority groups that are peaceful and oppose the Taliban. Again, this shows that the Biden administration’s priorities are more geopolitical rather than humanitarian.

There is a crisis in Lebanon that is primarily economic but the nation’s delicate religious balance is at risk amidst the ongoing crisis, and through the Middle East Christian minorities are in danger. Other humanitarian crises to monitor are the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with the persecution of Armenians under Azerbaijani occupation, the potential of a much worse humanitarian crisis in North Korea, and ongoing humanitarian crisis in Haiti, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Venezuela, and in the Ukraine. Not to mention the oppression of Tibetans and Uighurs in China and political oppression in Hong Kong.

It is worth noting that practically all these nations in crisis are eligible for the diversity lottery: basically immigrant visas that are handed out to nations that are underrepresented amongst immigration and distributed out by region. The only nations in crisis mentioned that are ineligible for the lotto are China, whose minorities are classified as part of China, Haiti, and Nigeria which was recently excluded due to exceeding its quota, but Cuba has been granted an exemption, despite exceeding its quota. The top visa lotto winners for 2022 were granted to Egypt (6,002), Iran (6,001), Russia (6,001), Algeria (6,001), Sudan (6,001), Ukraine (5,604), Uzbekistan  (5,319), Democratic Republic of Congo (4,503), Morocco (4,458), Albania (3,962), Ethiopia (3,957), Nepal (3,801), Cameroon (3,686), Ghana (3,284), and Turkey (2,874). Around 13 million people applied for the lottery in 2020 but most were rejected, with about 50,000 admitted annually on the lottery. Those admitted are generally better vetted than other immigrants and more likely to have educational credentials.    

Trump had put restrictions on diversity visas and while there is a perception that democrats are now friendly towards the program, this is not the case. Then-Senator Kamala Harris, for instance, co-sponsored a bill in 2020 called the Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act with Republican Mike Lee that would have eliminated the per country cap. The argument in favor of this bill is that it would be fairer to those from overrepresented nations who have to wait much longer to immigrate. Due to maintaining an overall cap on visas, however, this bill would have practically eliminated the path to immigration for those from smaller or underrepresented nations: the polar opposite of diversity based immigration. The primary motive for the bill was to supply corporations with cheap labor, and brain-draining the US’s main geopolitical rival, China, of its talent. The bill’s intentions were primarily economic and geopolitical, in other words, eschewing any real concern with humanitarianism or diversity. For this reason, it has come under fire by advocacy groups representing smaller nations/immigrant pools such as Iranian-American advocacy groups who were concerned that Iranian immigrants would be completely excluded under the bill. Additionally by excluding smaller and underrepresented nations this bill would make it practically impossible for those facing persecution to escape without special refugee visas that are highly politicized. Promoters of the bill claimed to speak on behalf of the Indian community, but ironically this bill would have been a disaster for the endangered Indian community of South Africa, due to their being from an extremely underrepresented nation.

Despite being a California native and of immigrant background, Kamala Harris by cosponsoring this bill with an establishment Republican, has not respected California values of celebrating diversity. California stands out as a place that has embraced diversity as a key value and  Californians should be at the forefront in calling for America’s policies to honor diversity-based immigration.  

California also has a shared history with and communities from many of these groups in peril, including communities and enclaves of  Cuban Americans, Ethiopian Americans, Ukrainian Americans, Armenian Americans, Lebanese Americans, Afghan Americans, and South African American, including Indian South Africans linked to the broader Indian-American community, and White South Africans linked to European American communities of English, German, Dutch, French, and Portuguese origins. These communities can also play a bigger role in helping those fleeing crises where there are cultural connections, and all are nationalities eligible for diversity-based immigration.

Californians have a unique role in calling out leaders who do not uphold these values. Unfortunately, the Biden administration has not. At least Trump and MAGA are honest about not liking diversity as the MAGA Right strongly opposes diversity based immigration.

The policies that I call for are to extend the diversity visa lotto to at least half of all slots allocated for legal immigration, at least temporarily in this time of crisis to help groups that are being singled out for persecution. There is a reality that despite virtue signaling, the American political establishment has not lived up to its commitment to uphold human rights and respect diversity. With ongoing global strife and unrest, America’s leadership has an opportunity to practice what it preaches.