Web tool lets users see if ancestors could immigrate to U.S. today

(CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

(CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

Advocates for comprehensive immigration reform have long noted that immigrating to the United States today involves an entirely different legal system than that under which most people arrived here for nearly 200 years.

Now, there’s an online tool to help explain that.

Bend the Arc, a Jewish organization focusing on equality and justice, has a simple web page through which you can plug in the circumstances of your ancestor’s arrival in the United States and figure out, very generally, if she would be admitted under current laws.

Entry Denied guides users through some simple questions: in what time period did your ancestor enter? From what region? What skills and connections did he/she have in the U.S.?

It informed me that my grandfather who arrived in the 1910s from Eastern Europe, without higher education, with no family here and with limited finances would today find no direct path to immigrating to the U.S. He’d likely only be admitted through the diversity lottery.

Up to 55,000 visas a year are granted under that system, which is open only to people from certain countries with low rates of recent immigration, (among those excluded in 2014 are Brazil, Bangladesh, Canada, China, El Salvador and Haiti, for example).

In 2012, 14.8 million people applied, representing,  with their families, 19.7  million people taking a chance at getting a visa to move to the United States. Impoverished, war-tattered Sudan accounted for 66,000 entries. Bangladesh had 7.7 million entries. Even financially strong Germany had 58,000 entries for the lottery.

If my grandfather had been lucky enough to draw one of the visas, he’d then have had to show he met the employment criteria. I don’t know what skills he had when he arrived here, but he first worked in tobacco fields on the East Coast and then settled in Connecticut, working as a garbage man and snowplow operator.  None of those jobs would have qualified him to use the lottery visa.