In the aftermath of Tuesday's terror attack in New York City, President Donald Trump and other top Republicans have fiercely come out against the immigration program that enabled the suspected attacker to enter the country in 2010.
Trump even rebuked Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) for his role in pushing the “Diversity Visa Lottery Program” which was created in 1990, passed by a bipartisan vote and with Republican President George H. W. Bush signing it into law.
The terrorist came into our country through what is called the “Diversity Visa Lottery Program,” a Chuck Schumer beauty. I want merit based.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 1, 2017
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) echoed the president's call for a “merit-based” immigration system in light of the NYC attack, telling Fox News on Wednesday, “Our first defense and our best defense is at our borders; who travels to visit us and who travels to live here. I think we need more extensive screening.”
“I like the idea of what President Trump is talking about, people should come to our country based on merit, but also based on allegiance,” Paul added.
However, as The New York Times pointed out Wednesday, Republicans blocked an effort in 2013, supported by Schumer, that would have gotten rid of the “Diversity Visa Lottery Program,” citing objections to “other elements of the plan that they considered too permissive.”
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who recently delivered a blistering speech denouncing the president, defended Schumer on Wednesday against Trump's attacks over the immigration plan. “Actually, the Gang of 8, including @SenSchumer, did away with the Diversity Visa Program as part of broader reforms,” Flake tweeted. “I know, I was there.”
— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) November 1, 2017
Schumer also fired back at Trump over his criticism of the immigration program, claiming the president “always seems” to be “politicizing and dividing America” following national tragedies.
“I have always believed and continue to believe that immigration is good for America,” he added.
But while Democrats, as part of a larger 2013 immigration reform package, did agree to eliminate the diversity visa lottery program, some key groups within the party expressed reservations at the time, including the Congressional Black Caucus.
“At this point, we are urging lawmakers not to eliminate the diversity visa program,” Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP Washington bureau, told The Hill back in 2013. “This is one of the places in the bill that needs to be addressed. We will work with our friends in the Senate, and we have started working with our friends in the House as well.”
The debate over diversity visa lottery ignited after 29-year-old Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov drove a rental truck into pedestrians Tuesday afternoon in New York City, killing eight people and injuring 12 more.
Saipov reportedly entered the U.S. in 2010 from Uzbekistan via the diversity visa program, which gives visas to people from countries with few immigrants to the U.S.