WASHINGTON – A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit Thursday by a group of would-be immigrants who were told they had won a chance to apply for a U.S. visa, saying the State Department was right to void the results of its annual visa lottery after a computer error.
Those in the group had been seeking class action status in their bid to stop the government from nullifying their selection in the visa lottery.
One of them, 42-year-old French native Armande Gil, who lives in Florida, called the decision by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson another disappointment.
"It makes the injustice even bigger and it's just a sense that there is nobody who hears us and whatever the government wants to do with us they can do and there is nothing we can do about it," said Gil, who had hoped to preserve her long-shot chance to get a U.S. visa without the traditional family or employer sponsorship.
About 22,000 people were notified in early May that they had won a chance to apply for a visa as part of the Diversity Visa Lottery Program, which is aimed at increasing the number of immigrants from the developing world and countries with historically low rates of emigration to the U.S.
From the nearly 15 million applications submitted between Oct. 5 and Nov. 3, 2010, about 90,000 names were supposed to be selected at random by a computer program. That number was to have been reduced to no more than 55,000 through attrition, interviews and various eligibility rules.
A glitch in the system meant that nearly 90 percent of winners were people who had applied within the first two days of the application period. Several of the original winners filed suit in federal court in Washington last month, weeks after the results were nullified.
Kenneth White, a California-based lawyer representing Gil and others in the case, did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.
In response to the judge's action, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the results of the new selection process would be available Friday on the lottery website.
During a court hearing in Washington this week, Justice Department lawyer Hans Harris Chen argued that the original lottery results couldn't stand because they didn't comply with the federal law that established the program in 1994 that required people be selected at random.
Jackson agreed and refused to block the new lottery.
"The court cannot order the Department of State to honor a botched process that did not satisfy that regulatory and statutory requirements," Jackson wrote.
Lottery website: http://dvlottery.state.gov/
Caldwell can be reached at http://twitter.com/acaldwellap