Eight people were killed Tuesday afternoon when a truck plowed into a busy New York City bike path. A 29-year-old Uzbekistan native was identified by law enforcement as the suspect, and he has reportedly been in the U.S. since 2010 on what's known as a diversity visa. On Wednesday morning, President Trump reiterated his call for the diversity immigrant visa program to end. But as horrific as the the actions of the NYC attack suspect were, it doesn't necessarily justify ending the diversity visa program altogether.
Trump tweeted early on Wednesday that he wanted a "merit based" system instead.
We are fighting hard for Merit Based immigration, no more Democrat Lottery Systems. We must get MUCH tougher (and smarter).
The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program (DV Program for short) currently awards 50,000 visas each year to people from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S., including many in Eastern Europe and Africa. It's run like a lottery, with applicants desperately wanting to come to America entering every year and hoping for good news. There's a two-year vetting process in order to be chosen, and viable applicants must have a high school diploma or at least two years of recent work experience, and no criminal history.
In the NYC terror suspect's case, he was one of 153,661 applicants from Uzbekistan in 2008 and one of 3,356 granted a visa in 2010. The fact he was chosen means he had a clean criminal history and underwent extensive vetting by the U.S. government.
Nevertheless, the suspect is believed to have rented a truck from a Home Depot in Passaic, New Jersey, and driven to lower Manhattan to strike pedestrians, killing eight and injuring 11. Law enforcement found a note in the truck claiming the attack was carried out in the name of ISIS, CNN reports.
Considering the Trump administration and Republican members of Congress were already attempting to cancel the program, it wasn't surprising the president used Tuesday's attack as an opportunity to once again call for it to be replaced.
In February, Trump publicly backed the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act as part of his administration's effort to reform immigration laws. Known as the RAISE Act, this policy would eliminate the DV Program altogether. In a statement at the time, Trump said, "Protecting our workers also means reforming our system of legal immigration. The current, outdated system depresses wages for our poorest workers and puts great pressure on our taxpayers."
But even without the RAISE Act in place, the Trump administration's travel ban restricting travelers from Syria, Libya, Iran, Yemen, Chad, Somalia, North Korea, and Venezuela from entering the U.S. could impact diversity visa applicants from those countries. The latest iteration was blocked by a federal judge Oct. 17, not long after a separate judge voiced concerns that it would force DV program lottery winners to miss the window for receiving their visa.
"If it turns out it's not legal and it's struck down, then the plaintiffs, they are without any recourse," U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan said of the travel ban in an August hearing. However, the blocked travel ban would have only restricted diversity visa holders from the eight specified countries — Trump wants the lottery trashed altogether.
The truth is, the arguments against the travel ban can also be made in favor of the diversity visa. First of all, white American men kill more Americans each year than foreign terrorists — for example, Stephen Paddock committed the October attack in Las Vegas, the deadliest mass shooting in recent U.S. history.
And when you look only at the terrorist attacks carried out by foreigners since 9/11, most were done by American citizens or legal permanent residents. Of 418 individuals accused of jihadist terrorism in the U.S. since 9/11 tracked by the nonpartisan New America think tank, 85 percent were either U.S. citizens or legal residents. About half were born American citizens, and only one was a recent immigrant.
"The terrorist threat in the United States is almost entirely homegrown, as no foreign terrorist organization has successfully directed and orchestrated an attack in the United States since 9/11," Albert Ford, a program associate with the International Security and Fellows programs at New America, told PolitiFact.
The essence of the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program is particularly American, intended to further diversify the American population and give people from other nations a chance at a better life. Others seeking a diversity visa shouldn't be punished for Tuesday's attack, just as all Muslims shouldn't be blamed for Islamic extremists' actions, and all white men aren't blamed for white American extremists' actions.