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Living in the city can be tough. So it's only natural that every five days or so, we ease the stress of work/school/relationships/sobriety by indulging in the hedonistic pleasures of the night life. Only when you're in the perfect night club (where the music is pumping, the Heineken is abundant, and the beautiful people are crowding the dance floor) can that $35 traffic ticket vanish into oblivion. In fact, there are times when the only thing that can make the daily trials of cosmopolitan existence worthwhile is the chance to let it all go with a night of frivolous abandon and indulgence.

 

Sometimes, however, this is more easily fantasized about than accomplished. If you are relatively new to a big city (or if you have little night club experience), the mere thought of navigating the maze of clubs can be enough to bring on a migraine. Fear not, nightlife novices, for after reading this SYW, you will be equipped with the information you need to rapidly seek out and conquer the perfect night club, rave, or whatever your choice of nighttime locale may be. A club that will help you forget your problems, ease your pain, and very possibly have you dancing on the tables while your adoring fans line up at the bar to buy you drinks. We take this chance to remind you to ALWAYS wear your underwear to a night club.

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Guest Dave Patton

NewYork Times

December 27, 2003

 

Fear and Tight Screening Stem Green Card Lottery

By NINA BERNSTEIN

 

or years it has been the annual wild card of American immigration policy: a

worldwide lottery in which millions gamble on winning a green card, and with it

the chance to live and work legally in the United States. But this year, with a

Dec. 30 deadline looming and 55,000 green cards at stake, the lottery has

attracted fewer than half the usual number of applications, falling to 5

million from as many as 13 million.

 

The startling drop-off, everyone agrees, results from the fact that for the

first time applications are being accepted only by computer, and government

officials say that has curtailed duplications and fraud.

 

But immigrants and their advocates say the falloff, while linked to the

computerization, results from a variety of other factors: fear of giving

information to the government online; lack of access to computers; and new

opportunities for immigrants to be defrauded.

 

The falloff, and the different explanations, show that like so much else

involving immigrants and government the lottery is being transformed by new

perceptions of fear and uncertainty.

 

State Department officials insist that the apparent decline is misleading. For

the first time, the officials said, they can electronically compare

applications, automatically disqualify anyone who applies more than once, and

store information about applicants. In the past, they say, multiple

applications often went undetected including many from immigrants desperate to

legalize their undocumented lives in New York.

 

But immigrants themselves say other reasons are also depressing the numbers.

Some people simply lack access to the tools to apply: a digital photo scanner,

a computer and an Internet connection. Some already in the United States fear

that leaving a computer trail could make them targets of deportation. And

hundreds of thousands of others who thought that they were applying were

tricked instead, by official-looking Web sites run by a Fort Lauderdale couple

living their own version of the American dream.

 

The couple, John Romano and Hoda M. Nofal, bought a $1.5 million waterfront

home, paid off more than $739,000 in credit card debt and amassed a $3.5

million bank account by fraudulently collecting fees for Internet lottery

applications that were never submitted, according to criminal charges filed

against them in October by federal authorities.

 

Now, with only a week to go, upstart businesses in computer shops, tax offices

and basements all over New York are offering to help would-be applicants play

the new odds. Some are scams, New York City officials warned last week. But

many are just part of the age-old self-help network of former greenhorns.

 

A currency trader from Northern Ireland, for example, recently found aid at a

tiny copy shop run by Bangladeshis on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, after

discovering by chance that he was one of those conned by the Florida couple's

Web site.

 

The copy shop, on West 77th Street, is so small that it offers only

standing-room use of its two computers, for $6 an hour. But two of the three

Bangladeshi men behind the counter are past green-card lottery winners, and

they were already trying to help one of their own countrymen convert a passport

photograph into digital pixels when the Irish trader confided his troubles.

 

"After about a dozen tries, we got it in," the trader said, pleading for

anonymity after disclosing that he had overstayed temporary visas for seven

years. "It was the blind leading the blind."

 

Word spread, and in recent days a small stream of local deliverymen has come to

the copy shop for similar help for about $15 — "black people, Chinese people,

Yemeni, Egypt," said Sanu Sheak, the shop's Bangladeshi owner, whose

brother-in-law is another lottery winner.

 

"Everybody has a dream to come to America — the golden dream," added Mr.

Sheak, 39, who sold flowers in the street and cleaned offices at night when he

first arrived in 1986. "They think that it's easy, but then they come here and

find out."

 

No immigrant group in New York City has played the green card lottery better

than Bangladeshis. They began winning their way to America in 1990, when

Congress established the program, officially called the Diversity Visa Lottery,

as a permanent reincarnation of smaller lotteries in 1986 and 1989.

 

The number of lottery green cards is small compared with the 620,000 others

available yearly, but those are reserved for the close relatives of citizens

and people sponsored by employers. The ostensible purpose of the lottery was to

encourage ethnic diversity in the American population, but it was widely seen

as a means of increasing European immigration. The lottery programs in the

1980's were dubbed "the Irish sweepstakes," because the biggest winners were

immigrants from the Republic of Ireland living illegally in the United States.

 

"This was part of the story of wrong assumptions in our immigration policy

debate," said Muzaffar Chishti, a senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy

Institute, a research and advocacy group. "They thought, more Irish. No one

knew the principal beneficiaries were going to be Bangladeshis."

 

Intense press coverage, high levels of literacy amid poverty, and large

families help explain why so many Bangladeshis applied, officials say, adding

that identity fraud was also a factor.

 

In New York, where about half the Bangladeshis in the United States have

settled, their numbers grew to 107,000 from 9,000 during the 1990's.

 

Stuart Patt, a State Department spokesman, said that so far the flow of

electronic applications (through dvlottery.state.gov) mirrors past patterns,

with Bangladesh, Nigeria and Ethiopia in the lead, and more than 170 countries

represented. But the official estimate of 5 million applicants by the end of

the month is well below the 13 million mailed in 1999 and 2000, and even the

8.7 million sent immediately after Sept. 11, 2001. Last year, 10 million

applications were received.

 

The lottery is open only to those from countries that have sent fewer than

50,000 people to the United States in the past five years. From millions of

applicants, the State Department randomly selects about 110,000 "winners,"

sending them invitations to apply for a visa at the closest consular office.

About half fail to complete the process in time or are disqualified. The supply

of diversity visas goes to the rest first-come, first served.

 

In the past, applications that were not selected were discarded unopened, Mr.

Patt said. To improve the odds, some people applied in multiple names, and when

one of their identities "won," brought in false documentation.

 

Digitized photographs will make such fraud far more difficult. "We will be

using facial recognition software to weed out people in multiple identities,"

Mr. Patt said. Another benefit, he added, is that the Internet bypasses corrupt

and incompetent postal systems that sometimes dumped thousands of undelivered

applications.

 

Bangladeshis here readily agree that the old way encouraged fraud, and some

praised the new process for greater fairness. "One per person — this is a

very good system," said Bishawjit Saha, owner of a Bangladeshi bookstore in

Jackson Heights, Queens, where two college students set up shop recently to

help with electronic applications.

 

But Mr. Saha and one of the college students also said that the ease of merging

and searching such computer databases is frightening away some would-be

applicants.

 

"A lot of people are fearful about how this is going to be used," said the

student, Hamidul Hoq, who already has a green card.

 

Mr. Saha cited the case of an illegal immigrant grocery worker who has wavered

about applying. The worker fears that if he enters identifying information

online he could be giving himself up for deportation to the successors of the

Immigration and Naturalization Service in the Department of Homeland Security.

 

Similar concerns reduced applications by the Irish in New York, said Siobhan

Dennehy, executive director of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center in Queens.

 

"People are being cautious this year, more than any before," Ms. Dennehy said,

noting that since Nov. 1, when this year's lottery opened, only a few hundred

have showed up to apply online. Last year more than 2,500 applications forms

were collected from the center.

 

But Mr. Patt, the State Department spokesman, said there were no plans to share

the data with other agencies.

 

"The information is not being collected to look for people to deport," Mr. Patt

said. "It's not being done as a tool for enforcement, it's being done for

administrative improvement." When pressed, he added: "Would we make that

information available if Homeland Security would make the request? I'm not

saying we would deny it."

 

The Bangladeshi student, Mr. Hoq, was not reassured. "That's my fear," he said,

"they don't rule it out."

 

In recent years some applicants used a family address abroad, hoping to collect

the visa overseas without disclosing that they had lived in the United States

illegally. But in October 2002, as part of tightened security after 9/11, the

government began keeping track of exits as well as entries, Ms. Dennehy noted.

More immigrants now fear that if they leave America, they will be unable to

return.

 

Still, there will always be people who dream of striking it lucky, said Mr.

Sheak, whose copy shop is now a neighborhood fixture — "like family," broke

in one regular customer, an elderly woman whose rich Hungarian accent seemed

undiluted by more than 50 years in New York.

 

Mr. Sheak grinned under his Knicks cap, as his two lottery winners sprang to

serve her. "In Bangladesh, you have to be lucky to be alive," he said. "Miss, I

keep telling you, everything depends on luck."

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/12/27/nyregion/27IMMI.html

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