Trump is assailing the diversity visa lottery after the NYC terror attack — here’s what it is

  • President Donald Trump assailed the diversity visa lottery on Wednesday, declaring the New York City truck attack suspect entered the US through the program.
  • The program admits roughly 50,000 immigrants per year through a lottery-based process meant for immigrants from countries with “historically low rates of immigration to the United States.”
  • A Republican bill Trump has backed that intends to slash legal immigration in half proposes eliminating the diversity visa program.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday seized upon a popular immigration program he claimed a terrorist who carried out a deadly attack in New York City on Tuesday used to gain entry to the United States.

“The terrorist came into our country through what is called the ‘Diversity Visa Lottery Program,’ a Chuck Schumer beauty. I want merit based,” he tweeted, adding “We are fighting hard for Merit Based immigration, no more Democrat Lottery Systems. We must get MUCH tougher (and smarter).”

Eight people were killed and at least were 11 injured on Tuesday, after a suspect plowed a rented pickup truck into a crowd of pedestrians and cyclists in lower Manhattan. The suspect was shot in the abdomen by a police officer, arrested, and identified as Sayfullo Saipov, a 29-year-old Uzbeki national who entered the United States in 2010.

It is still unconfirmed whether Saipov actually received his initial visa to the US through the diversity lottery, and unclear whether Trump was citing official government records or merely Fox News’ reporting in his tweets.

The US State Department, which runs the program, did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment on Saipov’s immigration history on Wednesday.

Here’s what you need to know about the program:

What is the diversity visa lottery?

The diversity visa program allots roughly 50,000 visas annually to immigrants from countries with “historically low rates of immigration to the United States,” according to the State Department.

Millions of people across the world enter the program each year. In 2015, the most recent year for which agency data is readily available, 50,000 visas were made available to more than 9 million qualified entries.

Applicants must have either a high school education or two years of qualifying work experience to be eligible to apply. All immigrants selected must undergo interviews at US embassies or consulates, and pay $US330 in fees.

The program’s eligibility requirements vary from year to year, accepting applications from slightly different lists of countries depending on their immigration levels. In 2014, for example, the lottery selected the highest number of its applicants from Nepal and Egypt, issuing about 3,500 visas to applicants from each country.

In 2010, the year Saipov entered the US, the program issued 3,356 visas to immigrants from Uzbekistan.

When and why was the program created?

Sayfullo saipov
This undated photo provided by the St. Charles County Department of Corrections in St. Charles, Mo., via KMOV shows Sayfullo Saipov. St. Charles County, Mo. Department of Corrections/KMOV via Associated Press

The diversity visa lottery has been in place in some form since 1988, but the current iteration of the program was outlined in the 1990 Immigration Act, signed by then-President George H.W. Bush.

The bill had received bipartisan support, including from then-Rep. Chuck Schumer of New York, who served on the House immigration subcommittee at the time.

Irish-Americans initially pushed for the program after the Immigration Act of 1965 implemented rules prioritising family reunification and skilled workers, disfavoring many Irish immigrants, according to The Washington Post.

In the late 1980s, two Democratic lawmakers from Massachusetts — Rep. Brian J. Donnell and Sen. Ted Kennedy — proposed allowing 10,000 visas on a first-come, first-served basis, allotted to those immigrants “adversely affected” by the 1965 Immigration Act.

The current program has since expanded the amount of visas available and eliminated the Irish bias, requiring that no single country receive more than 7% of the available visas per year. In recent years, most visas have gone to immigrants from African countries, State Department data show.

What have lawmakers said about the program in the past?

The diversity visa came under fire from certain Republican lawmakers earlier this year, when Sens. Tom Cotton and David Perdue re-introduced their RAISE Act, intended to slash legal immigration to the US by half over the next decade.

The RAISE Act, which Trump has backed, proposes eliminating the “outdated” diversity visa lottery.

“The Diversity Lottery is plagued with fraud, advances no economic or humanitarian interest, and does not even promote diversity,” Cotton and Perdue said in their re-introduction of the bill in August.

It’s not the first time the program has faced elimination. The failed 2013 Gang of Eight bill, intended to overhaul the country’s immigration system, also proposed axing the diversity visa lottery.

Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona said Wednesday that, contrary to Trump’s tweets blaming the diversity visa program on Schumer, Schumer was actually one of the lawmakers supportive of eliminating the program just four years ago.

In response to Trump’s Wednesday morning tweets, Schumer said “immigration is good for America,” and accused Trump of “politicizing and dividing America, which he always seems to do at times of national tragedy.”

What’s next for the program?

The RAISE Act, which would eliminate the lottery, has little support from the majority of Republicans and Democrats in Congress.

But the program’s elimination could come up as a potential bargaining chip in talks on the DREAM Act, which would replace the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program what Trump began phasing out last month.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act, confirmed that the Senate will scrutinize the diversity visa lottery during the bill’s negotiations.

“It makes no sense to hand out visas and green cards this way,” Graham told Fox News on Wednesday. “We want merit-based immigration. When it comes time to deal with … DREAM Act kids, that part of the deal should be to do away with the lottery system.”