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Law360 (July 10, 2020, 4:12 PM EDT) -- Hundreds of foreign citizens who won visas out of a pool of millions sued the Trump administration Friday, accusing the president of using a coronavirus-related travel ban to effectively shutter the diversity lottery program.
A group of diversity visa lottery winners and their families — 492 potential immigrants in total — filed the suit in D.C. federal court against President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, arguing that the pair have unlawfully used the travel ban to keep them from receiving their visas.
The plaintiffs won the lottery in 2019 and have until Sept. 30 to obtain their visas. Otherwise, federal law dictates that the visas, which allow holders to live and work in the U.S. indefinitely, will disappear.
"With over 23 million entrants a year, a diversity visa entrant has less than a one percent chance to be selected to apply for the visa," the plaintiffs explained. "The probability of being selected twice is .00025%."
Individuals who beat the lottery's odds are invited to formally apply for the diversity visas. As part of the process, consular officials must vet the applicants and issue a decision. But following Trump's April coronavirus travel ban, plaintiffs report that overseas embassies and consulates began informing lottery winners that their visa applications will be held until the ban is lifted.
The plaintiffs claim that the U.S. Department of State's freeze is arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Protection Act, and that Trump has run afoul of his constitutional duty to faithfully execute federal immigration law. The suit seeks injunction orders requiring the administration to process their applications before Sept. 30.
"He's created a predicament for tens of thousands of diversity visa lottery winners," said Curtis Morrison, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys.
The potential immigrants were hopeful that they could live in the U.S., he explained, and they've sunk money into the interview fees and pulling together the necessary application materials — medical and police reports — in pursuit of that goal.
"Now the U.S. is saying, 'Just kidding!'" Morrison said.
Citing soaring domestic unemployment, Trump announced in April that overseas foreigners couldn't enter the U.S. for 60 days on a number of visas. In June, he extended that bar to Dec. 31.
But another plaintiffs' attorney, Rafael Ureña, points out that the restriction doesn't stop the Trump administration from issuing visas in the meantime. Though the visa holders wouldn't immediately be able to immigrate to the U.S., they could do so after the ban expires.
Instead, the plaintiffs claim that the administration is using the travel ban to make good on Trump's reported promises to end the diversity visa program.
"It's been since 2017 that President Trump has pushed to end this, he's tried to go through the legislature several times," Ureña said, "and now he's trying a backhanded way under the cover of COVID-19 and unemployment to dismantle the program."
In November 2017, Trump called on Congress to eliminate the diversity visa program. And he renewed those calls in a series of tweets, claiming the cancellation of the lottery was a priority in his campaign to "[create] a safe, modern and lawful immigration system," according to Friday's complaint.
Individuals who won visas under the lottery were included in a separate Washington, D.C., case challenging Trump's green card ban. They alleged that the order was the culprit behind their stalled visa applications.
However, U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta seemed unwilling to entertain the suit, ruling in May that the challengers were unlikely to prove that their frozen immigration cases went back to Trump's ban.
A State Department spokesperson said the department doesn't comment on matters under litigation.
Representatives for the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The plaintiffs are represented by Curtis Lee Morrison and Rafael Ureña of the Law Office of Rafael Urena and Abadir Barre of Barre Law LLC
Counsel information for the government was not available Friday.
The case is Mohammed et al v. Trump et al, case number 1:20-cv-01856, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
---Additional reporting by Suzanne Monyak. Editing by Abbie Sarfo.
Update: This story has been updated to include comments from a State Department spokesperson.
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