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What Is the Diversity Visa Lottery Program that Trump Blames for the Manhattan Truck Attack?

By David E. Hubler
Contributor, In Homeland Security

Few Americans had heard of the Diversity Visa Lottery Program until President Trump publicly criticized it for allowing terrorist Sayfullo Saipov to enter the United States. Saipov is the Uzbekistan native charged with last Tuesday’s truck attack on a Manhattan path that killed eight pedestrians and injured 12 others.

Before a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Trump said, “We need to get rid of the lottery program as soon as possible.” Later, he tweeted, “We are fighting hard for Merit Based immigration, no more Democrat Lottery Systems.”

Origins of the Diversity Visa Lottery Lie in Aid to Irish Immigrants

Congress created the Diversity Visa Lottery, also known as the Green Card Lottery, in the 1980s. Originally, it was a way to help Irish immigrants, who were streaming into the U.S. in the wake of a severe economic crisis at home.

“Few had the [required] family ties or job experience to qualify for green cards. And many of them were undocumented, coming as tourists and overstaying their visas,” the Washington Post explained. The solution was a lottery.

“More than 30 years later, the Diversity Visa Lottery has evolved into a global operation that each year brings up to 50,000 people to the United States,” the Post said. Most of the immigrants come from countries in Africa or Eastern Europe that normally have disproportionally low immigration representation in the U.S.

According to a formula set out by Congress and administered by the State Department, countries that have had more than 50,000 natives immigrate to the U.S. in the previous five years are ineligible.

Randomly Selected Immigrants Undergo Extensive Background Checks

Millions of potential immigrants apply each year, but fewer than one percent are randomly selected. People who are selected undergo extensive background checks and receive a green card if they pass all the checks. The green card grants them permanent residency in the United States and puts them on a path to citizenship.

Schumer Involvement in Crafting Lottery Bill Was Minimal

When Trump aired his grievances against the Diversity Visa Lottery, he blamed Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) for authoring the House bill that became the Diversity Visa Lottery. At the time Schumer was a Representative and only one of 31 co-sponsors of the legislation.

The final bill passed the Senate 89-8 and the House 264-118. President George H.W. Bush signed the bill into law.

In 2013, Schumer helped author the so-called Gang of Eight’s comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate by a wide margin, but died in the House of Representatives. That legislation would have replaced the Diversity Visa Lottery program.

“The bill would have moved the diversity visas elsewhere in the system and introduced a merit system that took into account multiple factors like family and work skills,” according to CNN Politics.

New Bill Aims to Eliminate Diversity Visa Lottery Program

Senators Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) and David Perdue (R-Georgia) have introduced a bill that Trump endorses. Their bill would eliminate the Diversity Lottery altogether as well as certain categories of family-based green cards. The legislation would then “transform the remaining employment-based visas into a point system that favors heavily highly skilled, highly educated, English-speaking immigrants,” CNN Politics explained.

Most lawmakers on both sides of the aisle recognize the need to reform the immigration process. But for now, no one knows how much support there is for a complete revision of the immigration laws or even within the Republican Party for Cotton and Perdue’s bill.

Glynn Cosker is a Managing Editor at AMU Edge. In addition to his background in journalism, corporate writing, web and content development, Glynn served as Vice Consul in the Consular Section of the British Embassy located in Washington, D.C. Glynn is located in New England.

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