Repub­li­cans tar­get lottery that let in ter­ror sus­pect

Pro­gram in­tended to cre­ate more di­ver­sity

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN

President Trump and top con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans promised Wed­nes­day to scrap the coun­try’s green-card lottery af­ter it be­came clear that the sus­pect in this week’s ter­ror­ist truck at­tack in New York City used the Di­ver­sity Visa Lottery to gain a foothold in the U.S. in 2010.

Say­fullo Saipov, an im­mi­grant from Uzbek­istan, plowed a rented truck down a bike path Hal­loween af­ter­noon, wound­ing a dozen peo­ple and killing eight, po­lice said. Six of those killed also were for­eign­ers.

As a law­ful per­ma­nent res­i­dent, he was on the in­ter­me­di­ate step along the path­way to ci­ti­zen­ship.

Mr. Saipov is at least the third Uzbek to face ter­ror­ism ac­cu­sa­tions in re­cent years and the fifth per­son ad­mit­ted un­der the visa lottery to face ter­ror­ism-re­lated charges, giv­ing am­mu­ni­tion to a White House that just last month pro­posed ax­ing the lottery in any im­mi­gra­tion bill in Congress.

“I am today start­ing the process of ter­mi­nat­ing the di­ver­sity lottery pro­gram. I’m go­ing to ask Congress to im­me­di­ately ini­ti­ate work to get rid of this pro­gram,” Mr. Trump said at the White House. “We’re be­ing stopped by Democrats be­cause they’re ob­struc­tion­ists. And, hon­estly, they don’t want to do what’s right for our coun­try.”

On Twit­ter, Mr. Trump tar­geted Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer for par­tic­u­lar crit­i­cism, say­ing the New York Demo­crat’s work in help­ing cre­ate the di­ver­sity lottery in 1990 had fed the prob­lem.

Mr. Schumer and fel­low Democrats fired back, say­ing the president was politi­ciz­ing a tragedy and urg­ing him not to bring im­mi­gra­tion into the ter­ror­ism de­bate. Mr. Schumer said Mr. Trump was fail­ing a stan­dard that President Ge­orge W. Bush set in the hours af­ter the Sept. 11, 2001, ter­ror­ist at­tacks.

“President Bush, in a mo­ment of na­tional tragedy, un­der­stood the mean­ing of his high of­fice and sought to bring our coun­try to­gether. President Trump, where is your lead­er­ship?” Mr. Schumer said.

He said the so­lu­tion to ter­ror­ist at­tacks was to boost fed­eral fund­ing for cities such as New York, and de­manded that Mr. Trump re­cant part of his 2018 bud­get that would trim ter­ror­ism-fight­ing grants.

Repub­li­cans, though, sensed a shift in the im­mi­gra­tion de­bate in the wake of the at­tack.

Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, a South Carolina Repub­li­can who has been lead­ing the push to le­gal­ize il­le­gal im­mi­grant “Dream­ers,” said he now thinks can­cel­ing the di­ver­sity lottery should be part of any Dream Act bill that clears Congress.

“Count me in for want­ing to elim­i­nate the lottery sys­tem,” he said.

Mr. Gra­ham’s voice is pow­er­ful in the im­mi­gra­tion de­bate. He was part of the Gang of Eight sen­a­tors who in 2013 struck a broad im­mi­gra­tion deal to le­gal­ize most il­le­gal im­mi­grants. The bill also called for ax­ing the di­ver­sity lottery.

Now, Mr. Gra­ham is work­ing on the Dream Act, which would grant per­ma­nent sta­tus to il­le­gal im­mi­grants pro­tected by the Obama-era De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals de­por­ta­tion amnesty.

But Mr. Gra­ham’s part­ner in that ef­fort, Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illi­nois Demo­crat, was silent Wed­nes­day. His of­fice didn’t re­spond to mul­ti­ple re­quests for com­ment.

The di­ver­sity lottery was cre­ated in 1990 af­ter law­mak­ers con­cluded that the fam­ily-based im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem en­acted in 1965 ended up re­ward­ing coun­tries with long his­to­ries of im­mi­gra­tion to the U.S.

The lottery ex­plic­itly ex­cluded those high-im­mi­gra­tion coun­tries, re­serv­ing spots for coun­tries that didn’t send a lot of ci­ti­zens to the U.S.

“The visa lottery is like a cult in some coun­tries, where it’s an an­nual event for peo­ple to ap­ply,” said Jes­sica Vaughan, pol­icy stud­ies direc­tor at the Cen­ter for Im­mi­gra­tion Stud­ies.

Nearly 15 mil­lion peo­ple ap­plied in 2015 for the 50,000 spots that are avail­able each year.

Ms. Vaughan said the pro­gram is rife with fraud. Coun­tries that dom­i­nate lottery ap­pli­ca­tions are of­ten places where it’s easy to fake doc­u­ments to pass the low bar re­quired to qual­ify for the di­ver­sity lottery, she said. Four of the top 10 lottery-win­ner coun­tries are on the govern­ment’s watch list of ter­ror­ism-con­nected coun­tries.

Uzbek­istan, which is No. 5 on that list, was not a ma­jor source of lottery win­ners in the early years but be­came one of the more pop­u­lar users of the pro­gram by this decade.

In 2010, the year Mr. Saipov im­mi­grated, Uzbeks filed nearly 80,000 ap­pli­ca­tions and 4,059 were of­fered visas. A to­tal of 3,356 visas ul­ti­mately were is­sued to ci­ti­zens of that coun­try.

By 2015, the num­ber of ap­pli­ca­tions had grown ten­fold to more than 800,000 — or about 1 in every 35 ci­ti­zens of the Cen­tral Asian na­tion that borders Afghanistan. Of those, only a lit­tle more than 2,500 ended up gain­ing ad­mis­sion.

The other top-five lottery coun­tries are Nepal, Egypt, Iran and Congo.

Uzbek­istan was part of the Soviet Union but be­came in­de­pen­dent af­ter the USSR split in 1991. The na­tion is ma­jor­ity Mus­lim, but re­li­gious prac­tice is strictly reg­u­lated at home. Some an­a­lysts say that re­pres­sion has en­cour­aged Uzbeks to be­come in­volved in ter­ror­ist at­tacks out­side the coun­try.

In the U.S., three ter­ror­ism-re­lated cases have been tied back to Uzbeks.

One of those was Ulug­bek Kodirov, who pleaded guilty in 2012 to at­tempt­ing a ter­ror­ist plot to kill President Obama af­ter arm­ing him­self with firearms and grenades. He came to the U.S. on a stu­dent visa in 2009, but it was re­voked a year later be­cause he never en­rolled in school.

As for the di­ver­sity lottery, the Cen­ter for Im­mi­gra­tion Stud­ies counts at least four other visa win­ners who have been tied to ter­ror­ism in the U.S. since 2001.

One of those was the gun­man who went on a shoot­ing at­tack at Los An­ge­les In­ter­na­tional Air­port in 2002, killing two peo­ple and wound­ing four. He came on a stu­dent visa and was de­nied asy­lum in the U.S., but he gained per­ma­nent sta­tus when his wife won the di­ver­sity lottery.

The pro­gram’s suc­cess sto­ries, mean­while, are chiefly sports stars. Ghana-born Freddy Adu, the one­time great hope of U.S. soccer, came to Amer­ica be­cause his mother won the di­ver­sity lottery.

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