For 34-year-old Stuart McBrien the dream was simple. A new life in the U.S. with his wife was the ultimate ambition, but like most other potential immigrants the only way he could achieve this was through the annual diversity green card lottery.
McBrien, a native of Co. Antrim, was one of the 15 million people from around the world who applied for the green card lottery last year, a provision which annually grants 50,000 immigrants green cards and a path to U.S citizenship.
On May 1, McBrien was traveling on a train when he logged on to the State Department website to check the status of his application. Incredulous, he stared at the screen before a wide smile spread across his face as he punched the air. He had won the lottery and was one step closer to his American dream.
“I called my wife and we immediately began making plans. This was a really great moment. We had all our forms filled in and sent off within a week,” McBrien told the Irish Voice.
But the couple’s happy plans were short-lived. A glitch in the State Department’s computer system would deem the results null and void. Some 22,000 were informed they had been mistakenly told they were eligible for green cards.
The State Department announced that the selection was not a true random sampling of the 15 million people worldwide who applied for the lottery between October 5 and November 1 of last year.
More than 90% of the 22,000 applicants were chosen from the first two days of the registration period last October, an omission described as "non-fair, nonrandom result," by a State Department Official during a briefing in May. As a result the State Department announced the lottery will be redrawn in mid-July using all the applications received.
When McBrien heard the news he was shocked as he read and then re-read the notification posted online.
“I just couldn’t believe that the United States, which prides itself on honesty and integrity, would do this to anyone,” McBrien said. “It was a real kick in the teeth from a country that I have genuine respect and admiration for.
“I just can’t help thinking what would happen if the situation was the other way around -- if the Irish government had made a commitment to a bunch of U.S. citizens -- I’m sure they would bend over backward to make sure they honored it no matter what,” McBrien told the Irish Voice.
McBrien and his wife, both information technology consultants currently living in London, were not prepared to take no for an answer, and so he contacted Kenneth White, an immigration attorney based in the U.S.
Last Friday White from White & Associates law firm in California filed a class action suit in U.S. District Court in Washington against the State Department on behalf of 36 plaintiffs, once of whom is McBrien. The other plaintiffs come from more than 20 countries around the world.
The suit requests that the government restores its “broken commitment.”
“We are still hopeful that reason will prevail and the Department of State will understand that they results were random,” White, who took on the case pro-bono, told the Irish Voice.
He said he has received around 200 inquires on the matter from people around the world, a number sure to multiply as the case gathers momentum.
Another Irish citizen who fell victim to the glitch, who wanted to remain anonymous, told the Irish Voice she was determined to make a new life for herself in the U.S.
“From the day I applied I never thought ‘if I win.’ It was always ‘when I win,’” the Dublin woman reflected.
“I think I drove people mad with my positivity, so when on May 1 I sat up in bed and checked the results I was ecstatic. I checked about four or five times before I told anyone and then I told the world.”
Eager to complete the next stage of her application, she filled out all the forms and posted them off to the Kentucky Consular center the following afternoon. She then sat and waited to hear about her potential interview at the U.S. Embassy.
“I had been checking different online forums and from what I had read I believed I should have an interview by October and all going well I could be heading off to start my new life in January 2012,” she said.
Then in mid-May she was shocked to hear that the lottery results had been voided.
Devastated, she could not believe her eyes as she struggled to understand how such an enormous error could occur.
“I worked in information technology for nine years. I have seen the testing that goes into writing new code and all the verification checks that are needed before it goes live, and yet they could allow this to happen,” she told the Irish Voice.
“This is not the wrong order of a product that can be returned. This is the hopes, dreams and lives of 22,000 people,” she added.
Frustrated applicants from across the globe have embraced social networking sites, in efforts to raise the profile of the issue. A Facebook page called “22,000 Tears” was created as well as two Twitter accounts.
For now, White said it’s important that applicants don’t give up hope.
“Speak out, call Congress, call you relatives in the U.S. and have them contact their senators, their representatives, the secretary of state, call the White House!” said White.
“Nobody should be strident in their approach. Be graceful, respectful and persistent.”
“This was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Luck was shining on them and it was taken away.”