Diversity visa lottery winners from countries blocked by Trump hope for another chance under Biden

She was in her fourth year of university, living in Yemen, a newlywed and soon to be pregnant when she found out she won the US Diversity Visa Lottery, also known as “The Green Card Lottery.” It seemed Al-Doais had beaten the odds — 12.4 million applicants applied for a chance at the up to 50,000 visas that could be issued for 2017.

But in 2017, then-President Donald Trump took a series of actions aimed at barring individuals from Muslim-majority countries from coming to the United States. The one that was ultimately allowed to take effect — Presidential Proclamation 9645 — placed varying levels of restrictions on foreign nationals from eight countries: Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, Somalia and Yemen.

The path to a new life in the US for diversity visa lottery recipients like her seemed all but blocked. Although she said she was not refused under the executive order, she was not able to obtain her green card before time lapsed.

“After our dreams of traveling to the US were shattered, everything completely changed and was destroyed in my view,” Al-Doais told CNN. “The simplest way to describe my life currently is that it is a nightmare.”

Now, four years later, with the restrictions struck down by President Joe Biden, Al-Doais and other diversity visa recipients hope that they might once again have the chance to resettle in the United States.

‘Really lost’

The diversity visa program was established as part of the Immigration Act of 1990 in order to promote immigration from countries with fewer individuals coming to the United States.

“It provides an opportunity for individuals to come into the US that typically won’t have any other avenue to getting here,” Abed Ayoub, the policy director at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, told CNN.

Millions enter the lottery each year; only a fraction are chosen.

Al-Doais said that winning the visa lottery “was among the greatest moments of (her) life.”

“It was a decisive moment that was full of happiness,” she told CNN.

The winners of the lottery are able to apply for visas to the United States — a process that can be extremely costly and challenging.

Biden starts fast on immigration by halting border wall and travel ban while embracing DACA

Ayoub said that among the diversity lottery winners with whom he works, it is common that “they’ve accrued a significant amount of debt” in trying to obtain their green cards.

Al-Doais and her family sold their furniture and jewelry and borrowed thousands of dollars. Because the US does not currently have an embassy in Yemen, she said they traveled thousands of miles to Malaysia to interview for the visas. Al-Doais said shortly after her interview, she received an email from the embassy informing her that her visa was ready to be issued, but her husband’s visa was being processed. She ran into a series of problems with actually obtaining the visa, and before she could, her window of opportunity expired.

She now lives in Istanbul with her three-year-old daughter, Sidra. Her husband fled by foot to Europe a year and a half ago to seek work; he’s now in a refugee camp in Serbia.

“My husband is not with me. I am psychologically destroyed. I am really lost; I don’t know what to do or what will happen to me in the future,” she told CNN.

Ahmed, a Syrian diversity lottery winner, said he was asked to interview at the US Embassy in Jordan in 2019, as the US Embassy in Syria suspended operations in 2012. CNN is only using his first name for his safety. Ahmed said he went into debt paying fees and travel costs.

Although he knew that Trump’s ban was in place, Ahmed said he was willing to gamble on the even smallest chance that he could get out of Syria.

“If there is even a one percent chance I have to get out of this country that has literally destroyed me as a young man with ambition and hope for a better life, I would take it,” he said.

He told CNN that he was told by a consular officer that his visa application was denied because of the presidential proclamation, and that he did not qualify for an exemption.

According to State Department data, tens of thousands of applicants for immigrant visas — including diversity visa applicants — were refused visas in fiscal years 2017, 2018 and 2019 under the Trump administration’s policy.

‘Right that wrong’

Ayoub of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee told CNN, “the prior administration could have said we’re not providing these visas because of the ban.”

“But they didn’t do that. They did provide that hope. And now it’s the responsibility of this current administration to right that wrong and provide them an opportunity to come into the US,” he said.

White House lifts Trump order that temporarily banned certain immigrant visas during pandemic
On his first day as president, Biden issued a new presidential proclamation — “Ending Discriminatory Bans on Entry to the United States” — that ended the restrictions under Presidential Proclamation 9645.
“Pursuant to President Biden’s proclamation, the State Department will undertake a review to ensure that individuals whose immigrant visa applications were denied on the basis of the suspension and restriction on entry imposed by P.P. 9645 or 9983 may have their applications reconsidered,” the department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, which handles visas, says on its website.

“This review will consider whether to reopen immigrant visa applications that were denied due to the suspension and restriction on entry imposed by P.P. 9645 or 9983; whether it is necessary to charge an additional fee to process those visa applications; and development of a plan to expedite consideration of those visa applications,” it says.

On Wednesday, Biden also revoked another Trump-era executive order that temporarily banned some immigrant visas during the coronavirus pandemic

On Thursday, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that “diversity visa recipients holding valid and unexpired visas may now seek immediate entry into the United States as they are covered by a blanket national interest exception.”

However, under current law, most of those who were not able to obtain visas before their window lapsed or who have visas that expired will have to start over from scratch.

Pending the State Department’s review, applicants who were refused because of the Trump’s PP 9645 and did not qualify for a waiver before January 20, 2020 “must submit a new visa application … and pay a new visa application processing fee,” the consular affairs website says.

Al-Doais and Ahmed are hopeful that changes in policy will give them another chance at green cards.

“I hope from President Biden, his administration, and the State Department that they would return to us our rights, me and all those who won the lottery, since 2017, because, really, we are living in a truly tragic condition,” Al-Doais told CNN.

“I’m ready to do anything to get out of this hell,” Ahmed said.

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Trump to tell CPAC crowd the 'incredible journey' is 'far from over' in first public remarks since leaving White House

“I stand before you today to declare that the incredible journey we began together four years ago is far from over,” Trump is expected to say in Orlando, Florida, according to excerpts of his remarks released before the speech.

Trump has remained unbowed and unapologetic since the January 6 insurrection, his political capital among Republicans scarcely diminished even after he was impeached for a second time by the US House and then acquitted by the US Senate — with seven Republicans joining Democrats in the vote to convict him.

In his first public comments since leaving the White House, Trump plans to target President Joe Biden, attacking his immigration policies and demanding that he “get the schools open right now.”

“The future of the Republican Party is as a party that defends the social, economic, and cultural interests and values of working American families — of every race, every color, and every creed. Republicans believe that the needs of everyday citizens must come first,” the former President plans to say.

While charting his next political act over the past month from his post-presidential retreat at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Trump has refused to take any responsibility for his role in inciting his supporters to violence during the January 6 storming of the Capitol during the certification of the November election results — an event that has exacerbated divisions within the GOP about Trump and his role in the party moving forward.
“The Republican Party is united,” Trump plans to say Sunday at the gathering, which has served as an audition for other potential Republican presidential hopefuls. “The only division is between a handful of Washington DC establishment political hacks, and everybody else all over the country.”

Future elections

Although he has prominent critics in the party, most GOP leaders have stood by Trump as state and local party officials have moved to censure Republican lawmakers who favored his impeachment. The former President has been holding court in Florida not only with one-time aides like his former campaign manager Brad Parscale, but also visitors like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who has pledged to work with Trump to regain the majority in 2022, and Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel.
2024 Republican prospects seek their own breakout moments at Trump-dominated CPAC
When asked about Republican losses in November, McDaniel defended Trump during an interview Sunday on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” and touted his policy agenda, stating that “voters are saying overwhelmingly they agree with what President Trump did in office.” After meeting with Trump last week, she said she wasn’t sure if Trump would run again in 2024.

“That’s going to be a decision he’s going to have to make down the road. I do know he’s committed to helping us win back majorities in 2022, which is, of course, what I’m focused on right now,” she said.

In a sign of Trump’s standing in the Republican party, even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who blamed Trump for the insurrection in a Senate floor vote after voting to acquit him, told Fox News last week he would “absolutely” support the former President if he became the GOP presidential nominee in 2024.

Foreshadowing Trump’s influence on the 2022 races, McCarthy lavished praise on Trump during a Saturday panel at CPAC, crediting him with Republicans’ better-than-expected showing in the 2020 House races: “We got closer than anybody thought we could get… No one said we’d win seats,” McCarthy said of GOP efforts to win the majority last November. “But this is the little secret. You know why we won that? President Trump worked on all these races.”

Indiana GOP Rep. Jim Banks, the chairman of an influential group of House conservatives, took a shot at Republicans who have been disloyal to Trump during the same panel, warning that efforts to curtail his influence could harm the party in 2022 as they try to regain the majority in the US House and the Senate.

“There’s very few Republicans — the least popular in our party are the ones who want to erase Donald Trump and Donald Trump’s supporters from our party,” said Banks, who represents a solidly red district in northeast Indiana. “Let me tell you if that happens, we won’t win back to majority in 2022. We definitely won’t win back the White House in 2024 if we erase Donald Trump.”

That certainty about Trump’s reign in the Republican Party will embolden the former President as he seeks to put his imprint on the upcoming elections. After raising millions of dollars off his false claims of election fraud, Trump is weighing the creation of a new super PAC that could raise unlimited amounts of money with very few restrictions, CNN’s Fredreka Schouten and Jim Acosta reported Saturday.

In filings with the Federal Election Commission Saturday, Trump also expanded his potential reach by converting both his presidential campaign committee, Donald J. Trump for President, and his leadership PAC, Save America, into two political action committees that can support other candidates for office.

In the discussions with aides about the 2022 midterms and future election cycles, Trump has been weighing how to exact revenge on the House members and Senators who cast impeachment votes against him — and the new committees could serve as his vehicle for doing that.

He made one of his first steps in that direction Friday when he threw his support behind Max Miller, who is challenging one of the House members who voted to impeach Trump — Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez. Explaining his reasons for running Friday, Miller charged that Gonzalez “betrayed” his Northeast Ohio constituents when he voted to impeach the former President.

Fealty to Trump

The deference to the former President after the events of January 6 that stunned the world has underscored Trump’s firm command of the party’s base even as much of America recoiled from his election lies and his dangerous maneuvering to overthrow the democratic process.

The fealty to Trump has been on full display throughout CPAC, where panel discussions revived Trump’s debunked claims of election fraud and many of the speakers downplayed the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic — in keeping with the former President’s pattern — with many speakers portraying restrictions to stop the spread of the virus as an infringement on Americans’ personal liberties.
Though polls showed a dip in Trump’s support after the Capitol insurrection, his approval ratings among Republicans have since rebounded. Three-quarters of Republicans said they wanted to see Trump play a prominent role in the GOP going forward, according to Quinnipiac University Poll released earlier this month, even though 68% of Americans said the former President did not do enough to stop the insurrection.

Trump’s speech at CPAC will also give him another shot at revisionist history about his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic not long after the nation marked 500,000 deaths from coronavirus. Speakers at the political conference have largely panned President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief package, which narrowly passed the House early Saturday morning with all Republicans and two Democrats opposing the bill.

CPAC attendees stood to applaud South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem when she criticized Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, Saturday. “I don’t know if you agree with me, but Dr. Fauci is wrong a lot,” the former congresswoman said.

Noem has risen to prominence within the GOP over the past year by refusing to issue stay-at-home orders in her sparsely populated state and rejecting calls for government mask mandates.

“In South Dakota, I provided all of the information that we had to our people and then I trusted them to make the best decisions for themselves, for their families and, in turn, their communities,” Noem said Saturday. “We have to show people how arbitrary these restrictions are — and the coercion, the force and the anti-liberty steps that governments take to enforce them.”

Biden offered a diametrically different message about fighting the virus on Saturday morning as he hailed the passage of his relief package in the House: “We have no time to waste. If we act now, decisively, quickly and boldly, we can finally get ahead of this virus.”

“We can finally get our economy moving again, and the people of this country have suffered far too much for too long,” Biden said in remarks at the White House. “We need to relieve that suffering.”

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Rep. Karen Bass says systemic racism is playing a role in coronavirus vaccine distribution

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Cuomo changes plan and asks New York attorney general and chief judge to select independent lawyer to review sexual harassment claims

“The Governor’s Office wants a review of the sexual harassment claims made against the Governor to be done in a manner beyond reproach. We had selected former Federal Judge Barbara Jones, with a stellar record for qualifications and integrity, but we want to avoid even the perception of a lack of independence or inference of politics,” Beth Garvey, special counsel and senior advisor to Cuomo, said in a statement Sunday morning.

“Accordingly we have asked the Attorney General of New York State and the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals to jointly select an independent and qualified lawyer in private practice without political affiliation to conduct a thorough review of the matter and issue a public report. The work product will be solely controlled by that independent lawyer personally selected by the Attorney General and Chief Judge.”

This story is breaking and will be updated.

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Democratic lawmakers wrestle with how to proceed on immigration

Democrats involved in the efforts are in talks with leadership about how to proceed with the immigration agenda in the House but decisions haven’t been made yet, according to multiple members and aides. Leaders in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus are still holding education seminars with various groups within the Democratic caucus, according to one member.

White House announces sweeping immigration bill

“There are two camps. One is that we should have three separate votes and one that says we should bundle them all together,” said one Democratic member who asked to speak on the condition of background to freely discuss the internal caucus conversations. “It’s also unclear if they want to try to do this in a purely partisan way or do they want to try to build bipartisan support for it?”

The question of order and timing is in part a calculation about what can actually become law. While Democrats largely support legalizing millions of immigrants who are already in the country illegally, as Biden’s proposal would do, there is a risk in passing a sweeping bill in the House only to watch it go nowhere in the Senate.

Moderate Democrats, some of whom won election in districts that Donald Trump carried in 2016 and 2020, fear that voting on a comprehensive immigration bill without a clear path in the Senate could open them up to unnecessary attacks. It’s one thing, they argue, to vote on legislation that will become law, but it’s another thing to vote just for the sake of messaging and then suffer political attacks later.

Lawmakers involved in previous attempts at immigration overhauls also concede that moving Biden’s immigration measure forward is no easy feat, and instead focus on a piecemeal approach.

“If we look at reality, I think we know that it’s easier to get bipartisan support on the DREAM Act and agriculture plan,” said Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, citing two measures that previously passed the House and would provide relief to farmworkers and undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children.

“I think we have a much better shot at those two, even though I support full comprehensive immigration reform,” Cuellar said. “I don’t want to end up with good intentions; I want to end up with some sort of progress.”

One option could be to vote on the farmworker and Dreamer bills separately and keep working to see if changes could be made to the comprehensive bill to garner some Republican support down the line.

“In the abstract, my preference has been for a big comprehensive bill that has a lot in it and not piecemeal. It’s easier to do some hard things when you do it that way,” said Rep. Dan Kildee, a Democrat from Michigan.

“This is the struggle, whether we continue to just pass stuff that just initially is a statement of our values, knowing we then have to back down in order to actually legislate, and there is some tension within the caucus,” Kildee added.

Others argue that Democrats should take advantage of the opportunity sooner rather than later.

This “is our moment to finally fix an immigration system that has been broken for decades. We can keep families together, stimulate our economy, and properly manage our border at the same time. The U.S. Citizenship Act will do just that. We must use this momentum to pass robust reform,” said Democratic Rep. Linda Sanchez of California, who’s leading the Biden bill on the House side, in a statement.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington state, echoed that. “We want to make sure we’re not forgoing the possibility of a truly comprehensive bill for these other bills. If we do these smaller pieces, does that mean we’re not going to get to the whole thing?” Jayapal told CNN. “Let’s just push hard on all the different places.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, confirmed on a call with reporters this week that putting a bill on the House floor by March 8 is “being discussed,” but he didn’t offer a timeline.

“This is a hiccup where we have to figure out what’s going on the floor, but ultimately it’s going to be up to the Senate,” said a source familiar with the discussions.

The Senate would need 10 Republican lawmakers to cross the aisle and vote for a comprehensive immigration bill, something that doesn’t seem plausible in the wake of Trump’s recalibration of the party’s positions on immigration.

During the Trump administration, many Republicans on Capitol Hill moved farther to the right to restrict even legal forms of immigration. The former President’s border wall — a lightning rod for Democrats — became synonymous with gaining control of the southern border for the Republican base, and even senators who worked on the 2013 comprehensive immigration overhaul, like Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, have made it clear they would prefer a piecemeal approach this time.
Democrats have the advantage of controlling all three branches of government. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, could bring immigration legislation to the floor even if it didn’t have the votes to pass, but the timeline for something like that is still far off, given other measures, like Biden’s infrastructure package, that the Senate is working through.
The blind spot in the immigration debate

Immigrant advocates have stressed the need for a legislative revamp after years of constant policy changes and executive actions that have put millions of lives in limbo. They find themselves in the unusual spot of supporting Biden’s bill, and the vision it lays out, while recognizing there may be more success in passing smaller measures for the time being.

“Our movement is so hungry for a breakthrough this year that we are focused on what’s going to get us from today to the finish line with a breakthrough victory,” said Frank Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice, an immigrant advocacy organization.

“It’s fine if you want to vote on it, but what we’re trying to do is get momentum that leads to a victory,” Sharry said, referring to Biden’s immigration bill. “It’s not really either/or. It’s now and later.”

Jorge Loweree, policy director at the American Immigration Council, noted how previous attempts at an overhaul hang over the latest effort to pass sweeping legislation.

“What’s playing out behind the scenes is an assessment in real time of what’s possible in this particular Congress, in this moment. And it’s in response to the way we’ve pursued immigration reform previously, which is to cobble everything into one bill, rally everyone behind it and only to see it fall apart,” Loweree said.

In a letter to the White House on Friday obtained by CNN, a group of immigrant advocates urged the President to push Democratic lawmakers to “pursue every possible avenue to deliver for immigrant communities without delay,” starting with measures addressing immigrant youth, Temporary Protected Status holders, essential workers and farmworkers.

“With passage in the House of these bills, we expect the White House to go all in on a strategy urging the Senate to pass permanent solutions for immigrant youth, TPS holders and farmworkers. These are clear, attainable and immediate steps Democrats can take to set President Biden’s bill, and the larger objective of citizenship for all 11 million undocumented immigrants, in motion,” reads the letter.

A member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus who requested anonymity to speak freely told CNN that debate within the party on these kinds of issues is expected. “There isn’t any major bill that comes to the Congress where there isn’t some internal debate about what exactly it should look like. It’s the same thing with this bill,” the member said.

Still, the message from groups advocating for immigrants in the US is clear: “Just move in March,” Sharry said.

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3 officers were hurt in an explosion in Wichita while searching a vacant home, officials say

In a news release obtained by CNN affiliate KWCH, Wichita Police said the officers responded to a call from a homeowner that reported damage to a vacant home, believing someone might be inside. The officers obtained keys from the homeowner and attempted to check the home.

After entering the front door, the officers reported hearing an explosion, the release says. Three officers were injured and transported to a local hospital for treatment.

The Wichita Police Department SWAT Team and Bomb Squad were called in and secured the house, which was empty, the release says.

“The investigation revealed that no one was inside the home, but someone had left a modified, loaded shotgun in the residence which discharged as the officers made entry,” the release says.

Officer Trevor Macy told CNN on Sunday via email that investigators are “still looking into what caused the shotgun to be triggered.”

Two of the three officers injured remain in the hospital, one with minor injuries and another in serious but stable condition, the police said in the release. The third officer has been released from the hospital.

The police department’s investigative division is working with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the FBI in the investigation.

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Man wins $500,000 Powerball prize with fortune cookie numbers

Sorzano, who is in the process of moving to Huntersville, North Carolina, used the set of lucky numbers from the fortune cookie to purchase a North Carolina Powerball lottery ticket.

According to North Carolina lottery officials, Sorzano’s numbers matched four of the white balls, winning him $50,000, but they say that prize bolted to $500,000 because he bought a $3 power-play ticket.

According to lottery officials, the odds of winning a Powerball jackpot are 1 in 292 million.

“This was a good investment,” Sorzano said.

Sorzano, who is from Estero, Florida, took home $353,751 after tax on Monday. The future North Carolina resident said he’s still in disbelief and will be using the money to purchase a home in Huntersville.

“Unbelievable,” Sorzano said. “I’m just super happy that my dreams came true.”

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