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Immigrant organizers lobby local governments on national immigration bill

Chicago immigrant organizers are leading a national fight to preserve the so-called Diversity Visa program, and they’re starting at Chicago’s City Hall.

Alderman William Burns (4th) will introduce a non-binding resolution Wednesday to support keeping the endangered Diversity Visa program as part of the U.S. immigration system. The program is slated for elimination under the proposed immigration bill currently being debated in Congress.

“I think it’s really important that Congress pass comprehensive immigration reform,” said Burns, “but that we keep in elements of our current immigration system that have been helpful to making sure that we have diversity in the pool of people that immigrate to the United States.”

The Diversity Visa program issues 55,000 visas each year to countries that have sent few immigrants to the U.S. In recent years. It has accounted for half of all African immigration to the U.S. Burns crafted the resolution with the help of the United African Organization, based in Chicago.

“It’s all about relationships,” said Alie Kabba, Executive Director of the United African Organization, “and if we can generate the kind of support we already have here in the City Council, that will translate to support with the Congressional delegation, given the fact that we are all in this together.”

Kabba said he has corralled about 20 African organizations across the U.S. to come together as a network for the first time. The groups are focusing their energies on fighting the elimination of the Diversity Visa program. He said the resolution in Chicago will be the first to address this issue at the city level, and he expects organizations to replicate the effort in their respective locales.

Several members of the Congressional Black Caucus have also voiced concern about the elimination of Diversity Visas under the immigration bill.

Odette Yousef is WBEZ’s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her @oyousef.

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