A Washington federal judge has dismissed a class action against the State Department over its botched visa lottery selection process, in which 22,000 foreign nationals were left with "broken dreams" when a computer glitch forced the department to void the results in May.
U.S. District Judge Amy Jackson, in an opinion (PDF) released yesterday afternoon, wrote that she was "sympathetic to the plaintiffs’ plight," but that the State Department was justified in recalling results that violated the central statutory tenet of the Diversity Visa Lottery – that it must be random.
The State Department expects to release the results of the lottery do-over today at noon.
About 100,000 foreign nationals are selected through the lottery each year for the chance to apply for a green card; the State Department ultimately awards 50,000 visas. This year’s program drew 19 million applications in October.
Shortly after the State Department began releasing results in May, officials realized that more than 90 percent of the winners had completed entries during the first two days of the month-long submission period. They later blamed a computer glitch for the obviously non-random results.
About 22,000 people had learned they won before the State Department voided the results, according to Berman’s opinion. The complaint, which was filed June 16 on behalf of the entire group, is under seal. The class members sought a preliminary injunction barring the department from voiding the results and carrying on with a new lottery.
The State Department declined to comment on the substance of the opinion, except to say officials were notified shortly after it was released and were preparing to release the results of the new selection process.
The plaintiffs were represented by Kenneth White of White & Associates in Woodland Hills, Calif., and Michael Piston, a solo practitioner in Rochester Hills, Mich. Neither could be reached this morning for comment.
Jackson wrote that the plaintiffs did have standing to sue, citing previous circuit holdings that lost opportunities to apply for an immigration visa met the standard for injury. But she found that because the lottery was not carried out in accordance with the law – which explicitly requires the department to use a random selection process – the State Department had no choice but the cancel the results and start over.
“In determining the most appropriate remedy for the flawed lottery, the State Department was bound to balance the interests of the 22,000 individuals who were aware of the lottery results and the 19 million other disappointed entrants, who may have equally compelling reasons for wanting to immigrate to the United States,” Jackson wrote.