President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he would end the popular US green card lottery as police said a radicalized Uzbek man staged the deadly truck ramming in New York after entering the country under the program.
The move could spell the end to the US immigration hopes of millions of people around the world who have tried to win US residence permits through the program since it was created 27 years ago.
“I am starting the process of terminating the diversity lottery program,” Trump angrily told reporters.
“We have to do what’s right to protect our citizens,” he said. “We will get rid of this lottery program as soon as possible.”
The program awards US permanent resident visas to around 50,000 applicants from around the world each year, opening the door as well for members of their broader families to follow them, so-called chain migration.
According to Trump, Sayfullo Saipov, identified by authorities as the man who plowed a rented truck into cyclists and pedestrians on a New York City bike path Tuesday, came to the country via the program in 2010.
Saipov, 29, who was arrested after being shot by police, planned for weeks to undertake his attack in the name of Islamic State, following online instructions from the jihadist group, officials said.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he was “radicalized domestically” only after he came to the country, “when he started to become informed about ISIS and radical Islamic tactics.”
Closing doors to immigration
Trump’s threat would further close the doors to hopeful US immigrants. He ran for election last year promising a crackdown on immigration, including building a wall on the Mexican border and banning Muslim immigrants.
This year he has already slashed the country’s annual refugee intake by more than 50 percent to 45,000, tightened visa issuance around the world and ordered a ban on travelers from 11 unnamed “high-risk” countries. Refugee experts say all but one have Muslim-majority populations; they do not include Uzbekistan.
The officially titled Diversity Lottery Program aims to diversify the origins of people granted permanent residence — so-called green cards — in the United States.
In 2015, lottery applications were received for more than 14 million people, and 49,377 won green cards, including 2,524 Uzbeks.
Trump said he wants to move US immigration to a “merit-based system” and not allow immigrants to bring their extended families.
“We want to get rid of chain migration,” he said.
Republicans in Congress have tried for several years to eliminate the visa lottery program, but were stifled by Democratic resistance.
Trump blamed the program on Chuck Schumer, the senior Democratic senator from New York, even though it was resoundingly supported by both parties and signed into law in 1990 by a Republican president, George HW Bush.
“The terrorist came into our country through what is called the ‘Diversity Visa Lottery Program,’ a Chuck Schumer beauty. I want merit based” immigration, Trump tweeted.
Few US attacks by immigrants
Tuesday’s incident was the second time the lottery has been tied to a jihadist attack inside the Untied States. In July 2002, an Egyptian man whose wife entered the country on the green card program shot two people dead at the ticket counter for El Al, the Israeli airline.
Otherwise, Trump’s immigration crackdown would not have prevented any of the deadly jihadist attacks inside the United States over the past 16 years.
Most have been perpetrated by US-born and radicalized perpetrators. And most have family ties to countries not covered by Trump’s travel bans — Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and others.
But Republicans expressed strong support for Trump’s move.
“Yesterday’s attack was an outrage, especially because it was entirely preventable,” said Senator Tom Cotton.
“The diversity visa lottery program has long been deeply flawed, but now we see very clearly how it’s a threat to our national security.”
Schumer rejected Trump’s stance. “I have always believed and continue to believe that immigration is good for America,” he said in a statement.
And New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Trump had politicized the situation.
“That was a bipartisan law that was passed that had basically no relevance to the facts of this situation,” he said.
“As I said before, you play into the hands of the terrorists to the extent you disrupt and divide and frighten people in this society. And the tone now should be the exact opposite.”