THE FIRST Thanksgiving was celebrated by the weary Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony in 1621, only a year after their arrival in the New World. Nearly four centuries later, America remains a magnet for those who yearn to make a better life for themselves, and today’s holiday underscores the value of preserving legal ways for immigrants to come to the nation’s shores.
One indication of this country’s enduring appeal to dreamers and strivers abroad is the record 15 million people who entered the State Department’s green-card lottery this year. Created by Congress in 1990, the lottery — formally called the “diversity visa program” — adds geographic variety to the nation’s immigrant population by making 50,000 immigrant visas available each year by the luck of the draw. Applicants may be from any country, except those that — like Mexico, China, Brazil, and India — already send large numbers of immigrants to the United States.
The vast majority of the roughly 1 million legal immigrants who arrive each year are sponsored by family members or employers already in the United States. The green-card lottery gives hopeful immigrants without such connections the only legal option most of them will ever have for a chance at the American dream. At best, it is the longest of long shots — only one-third of 1 percent of those who entered the “diversity” lottery this year will get one of the coveted visas.
Some lawmakers call for abolishing the program. They say it poses a security risk by opening the door to foreigners with no connection to the United States. But winners of the green-card lottery, like other immigrants, must pass a strict security background check before they are allowed in.
Amid all the heated rhetoric about immigration policy, it is worth reminding ourselves that immigrants have been a great blessing. For more than 400 years, America has been attracting people like those long-ago settlers in Plymouth — people with the courage and drive to uproot themselves and start over again in a new country. Their search of a better life so often ends up making life better for all.