Raw footage for the award-winning series The 90's. Eddie Tape #79. Outside the United States Post Office in Merrifield, Virginia, 1991 after the first immigration visa lottery. Nearly 19 million applications were submitted by mail for the 40,000 open slots. The lottery was an attempt to give a boost to several under-represented countries, including Ireland. An official, Hank, explains the logistics from the USPS perspectives of the incredible volume of mail sent to the State Department during this process.
00:00Copy video clip URL A group of United States Postal Service employees and journalists are gathered outside the USPS processing center in Merrifield, Virginia. It is October 13. A man named Hank explains to the journalists how the Visa lottery works and its provision that 16,000 applicants must be from Ireland. He talks about how the mail is processed and delivered. “Any mail delivered before eleven fifty nine pm tonight will be too soon for the lottery. After midnight tonight we will deliver mail in boxes or trays on numbered pallets for as long as it takes until October 20th at eleven fifty nine pm when we will deliver our last piece in that controlled fashion. Each pallet will be shrink wrapped as it’s delivered to the State Department.” He notes that so far 1.2 million pieces of lottery mail have been processed. He notes that none of it qualifies for the lottery because it arrived too early.
02:02Copy video clip URL Journalists ask a variety of questions. Hank continues to explain and clarify the lottery process and offers facts and figures about how much Visa Lottery mail has come in. He clarifies when a piece of mail is considered too early, and subsequently invalid, and when a piece of lottery mail is considered on-time.
06:10Copy video clip URL Video drop outs. Signal loss.
06:13Copy video clip URL Hank continues clarifying the lottery system and explains that out of all the entries 40,000 pieces will be selected for the lottery sometime after one minute past twelve am. He reiterates that the Postal Service simply delivers the mail to the State Department in the order it was received. The USPS will be labeling the pallets of mail until eleven fifty nine on October 20 at which time the State Department pulls and announces the winners. He continues trying to clarify the process and what constitutes an eligible and ineligible entry. He explains the processing center has a caged area designated as a giant post office box specifically for lottery mail.
09:05Copy video clip URL A journalist asks if it’s too late if a mail has been dropped off after one after twelve. Hank notes that the Postal Service has been saying for the last six weeks they don’t feel a person has any advantage mailing their entry from Merrifield before or after midnight tonight because they receive mail continually throughout the day from all over the world. “It’s like the Mississippi River: if the water comes in from the top and the Missouri merges in how do we know where a specific drop of water came from? We don’t. It all comes from the Mississippi as it empties out into the Gulf of Mexico.” He repeats there’s no better time to mail the letter that will give one person any advantage over another.
15:47Copy video clip URL A postal worker named Karen takes a group of journalists into the distribution center for a tour of the facility and the lottery mail. Hank shows the area designated for State Department Visa lottery mail; he points out mail that has been verified and mail waiting to be verified; workers sorting the mail by hand to make sure regular mail is not mixed in with lottery mail; the videographer talks to one of the sorters but is discouraged by USPS staff.
19:55Copy video clip URL Karen explains the machinery and processing, where workers process the mail by hand, separating out the Visa mail from regular mail.
22:55Copy video clip URL Interview with Hank explaining how lottery mail can be late or early.
25:55Copy video clip URL Visa sign. The journalists are escorted out of the processing center.
26:53Copy video clip URL Hank talks about how many stamps have been sold. He notes they have a lot of extra people working.
27:46Copy video clip URL People outside organizing mail to be sent in to the lottery.
28:11Copy video clip URL An Irishman in charge of a collection point for Visa mail drop offs addresses. A crowd of journalists ask questions about why the Irish want to immigrate to the US. The man claims that it’s an economic issue, and that it’s a misconception that people are leaving due to IRA upheaval. He talk about his issues with the lottery system. His answer is cut off mid-sentence.
30:03Copy video clip URL Interview with a man who brought a thousand letters to mail on behalf of many different entrants. He says he is placing the letters in different bags because each bag will be mailed at a different time of day.
30:55Copy video clip URL The Irishman continues to speak. He explains that he has different bags of mail to be mailed at different times of day to give people a better chance at winning.
32:52Copy video clip URL END