Diversity Visa Lottery Draws Record Number of Entries

According to the State Department, there were 15 million entries for this year’s diversity visa program. This is the most entries the program has ever had – representing an increase of about 25% – and is consistent with the surge in immigration applications seen in recent years.

Some political groups – in addition to many immigrants themselves – have voiced their support for the diversity visa program, which provides 50,000 immigrants each year with permanent U.S. resident status. With this year's entry pool up to 15 million people, applicants have just a 1 in 300 chance of receiving a green-card through the program.

At the same time, ho

wever, several points have been argued by critics of the program. In particular, they argue that it entices uneducated and unskilled immigrants, and that the program in general creates a number of unneccessary risks to national security.

In fact, a bill has been introduced by Virginia Congressman Bob Goodlatte that would completely get rid of the diversity visa program. According to Rep. Goodlatte, “More and more people are learning about this program and are dumbfounded that we have it in the first place. Our chances have never been better to kill it.” However, it remains to be seen exactly how the recent midterm elections might impact the chances of success for this and similar legislation aimed at reforming U.S. immigration policy.

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U.S. Consulate Closed on Mexican Border

Last week two shootings occurred on Tuesday and Thursday, resulting in the deaths of ten drug cartel members and injuries to ten Mexican soldiers and at least one police officer.  One of them occurred in the city of Matamoros, on the border with Brownsville, Texas.  As such, the U.S. Consulate  General in Matamoros has issued a warning regarding the gun battles that have been taking place.

Additionally, the Consular Agency in the Mexican city of Reynosa, an extension of the Consulate General, has temporarily closed its doors.  Reynosa lies on the Mexican border approximately 15 minutes from McAllen, Texas and an hour from Matamoros.  According to U.S. officials, the shootings between gang members have been numerous lately and are believed to be related to narcotics trafficking.  Travel restrictions were issued by the U.S. State Department following the violence along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Read more at AlJazeera.net.

Former Employees Say Blackwater Defrauded Government

Two former employees of Blackwater Worldwide have accused the private security contractor of defrauding the US government. The false billing allegedly includes charging taxpayers for alcohol, parties, spa trips and a prostitute.

In court records unsealed this week, a husband and wife who worked for Blackwater said they witnessed the company fabricating invoices, double-billing federal agencies and charging the government for personal expenses. They allege that they observed “systematic” fraud in the company’s security contracts with the State Department in Iraq and Afghanistan, and with the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. Blackwater is the State Department’s largest security contractor.

The couple filed the lawsuit under the False Claims Act, which allows whistle-blowers to win a portion of any money the government recovers as a result of the information. However, the Justice Department has decided not to join them in their lawsuit.

Blackwater changed its name to Xe Services LLC last year. The company became a major source of anti-American sentiment in Iraq because of repeated deadly shootings involving its guards. Xe spokeswoman Stacy DeLuke said Thursday that the couple’s allegations are false.

In their suit, the couple asserts that Blackwater officials kept a Filipino prostitute on the company payroll for a State Department contract in Afghanistan, and billed the government for her time working for male Blackwater employees in Kabul. They alleged the prostitute’s salary was labeled as part of the company’s “Morale Welfare Recreation” expenses.

The wife, Melan Davis, worked in Blackwater’s finance department. She questioned how the company could bill the government for its employees’ travel expenses to and from Iraq when it lacked the documentation for those trips. She said corporate officers instructed her and co-workers to create many false invoices for travel, so her bosses could overcharge the government.

Melan Davis argues that Blackwater fired her in February 2008 because she questioned fraudulent billing. Her husband, Brad Davis resigned.

See NYTimes for more.

Former State Department Official Charged with Illegally Representing Sudan

The federal government charged former state department official turned lobbyinst, Robert J. Cabelly, with violating U.S. sanctions by illegally representing the Sudanese government. A federal indictment accuses Cabelly of money laundering, passport fraud, making false statements and working as an unregistered agent of Sudan. According to the indictment, Cabelly’s illegal representation of Sudan earned him hundreds of thousands of dollars which the Sudanese government directly deposited into accounts in the Cook Islands. Cabelly worked on Africa issues for the State Department in the eighties and nineties and took on the authorized role of lobbying for Sudan under the Bush Administration. Cabelly terminated the contract and waiver to work with Sudan, but apparently continued to covertly advise the Sudanese government and engage in commercial activities on behalf of Sudan. Cabelly’s interaction with Sudan violated the trade embargo imposed against Sudan in 1997 and continued by the Obama Administration. The U.S. instigated the 1997 trade embargo to pressure Khartoum into ending the genocide in Darfur and to stop aiding and abetting terrorist groups.

For more information see: State Department Official Turned Lobbyist Is Accused of Illegally Working for Sudan.