The NYC attack shouldn’t lead to getting rid of the diversity lottery program

November 2, 2017

On Wednesday morning, President Trump tweeted that the New York City attacker arrived in the U.S. under the “diversity lottery program” and that his administration would seek to end it. But Trump is totally wrong about the diversity lottery program for a few reasons, the biggest one being that getting rid of the diversity lottery program wouldn’t have changed anything about the attack on Tuesday afternoon.

Win McNamee / Staff/Getty Images

On Wednesday morning, President Trump tweeted that the New York City attacker arrived in the U.S. under the “diversity lottery program” and that his administration would seek to end it. But Trump is totally wrong about the diversity lottery program for a few reasons, the biggest one being that getting rid of the diversity lottery program wouldn’t have changed anything about the attack on Tuesday afternoon.

The Department of Homeland Security confirmed late Wednesday that the New York City attacker entered the U.S. in 2010 with a passport and a valid diversity immigrant visa, according to the Washington Post. But NYPD and law enforcement said in previous statements that he was radicalized after coming to the U.S., so for that very simple reason, changing the immigration policy wouldn’t have worked in this particular case. Aside from that, the diversity lottery program allows many immigrants to come to the U.S. who otherwise wouldn’t be able to, and closing those doors might not be the best thing for the country.

Trump said in a press conference, also Wednesday, that the diversity visa lottery program is not “nice.” “It sounds nice. It’s not nice. It’s not good,” he (sort of) explained. But it’s not like someone over at DHS spins some Bingo machine and randomly gives away free tickets to immigrants. It’s a lot more complicated than that.

The program was started in 1990 as a way to help immigrants come to the U.S. from countries that normally don’t have a lot of immigrants coming our way.

Recipients of the program come from countries that have fewer than 50,000 immigrants in the U.S. already and come from Africa, Asia, Europe, North America (other than Mexico), Oceania and South America, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean.

It’s supposed to fill in the gap for people who can’t get visas through employment or family connections. According to CNN, one million green cards are issued by the U.S. per year and last year, 45,664 of them were diversity visa recipients.

To even apply for the visa, they have to have at least a high school education or equivalent and have had at least two years of work experience that required training within five years of the application date. They also have to have an in-person interview and be “admissible” to the U.S., which means they have to disclose past criminal behavior, including associations with terrorists. They take fingerprint scans and require a medical check up, too.

Again, no one’s scratching some magic DHS lotto ticket in a foreign country and getting a free ride to the U.S.

It’s called a lottery because the odds of getting one, given the number of applicants, are worse than the odds of getting into Harvard University, according to Vice.

Trump wants to get rid of this path to citizenship entirely and make immigration solely “merit based.” But the requirements for a diversity visa are already pretty high. Instead of scrapping the program, the State department could also look into revising how they screen people coming in, especially since the political environment has changed a lot since President George H.W. Bush signed it into law.

There might be better ways to screen people, but blocking immigrants from smaller countries from coming here just because they already don’t have a job lined up or family members living somewhere in New Jersey just seems backwards. Think of all the talent and interesting human beings we’d be missing out on.

That being said, the diversity visa lottery program hasn’t always been popular and there have been a handful of terrorist plots associated with the program, though only Tuesday’s was fatal. The others are associated with the program only because there were very tangential actors in the plot who had the visa. Given the number of diversity visas given out every year, that seems more like probability than the visa program actual being a cause of terrorism.

Although the diversity visa lottery program was passed with bipartisan support back in 1990, there was a move by Democrats to overhaul immigration legislation back in 2013. Funny enough, New York Senator Chuck Schumer was a member the group who came up with an immigration reform package that would have eradicated the diversity visa program in the name of a 13-year pathway to citizenship for all immigrants.

On Wednesday, Trump seemed to have forgotten that part of immigration history, calling the diversity visa lottery a “Schumer beauty.” (Isn’t it nice to live in a world where the president erroneously blames the senator of the state that just experienced a terrorist attack? But anyway…)

Back in 2013, Politico reported that the bipartisan immigration reform bill would “revamp every corner of U.S. immigration law, establishing a 13-year pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, with several security benchmarks that have to be met before they can obtain a green card.” The reform bill would have also required a mandatory workplace verification system for employers and increase security on the borders.

Obama lauded the reform bill as a perfect example of compromise. The measure would not only increases security along the border, but requires a mandatory workplace verification system for employers, trying to ensure no jobs are given to immigrants who are not authorized to work in the United States. As with so many other pieces of bipartisan legislation during the Obama era, the bill died in Congress.

Immigration reform and national security are important, nuanced issues that should be dealt with by Congress. But we shouldn’t allow emotions to take over and implement policies such as Trump’s elusive “extreme vetting” program (what does that even mean?) because of one single instance. Given that the most recent terrorist attacks in the U.S. were perpetrated by people who were radicalized after they moved here. Getting rid of the diversity visa lottery doesn’t address that one, very important aspect of terror attacks that happen here.

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