U.S. 'diversity visa' program in
spotlight after New York attack
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[November 02, 2017]
By Yeganeh Torbati
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A visa program aimed
at diversifying the U.S. immigrant population came under attack from
President Donald Trump on Wednesday after he learned that the man
accused of killing eight people in New York City on Tuesday used it to
enter the country.
Sayfullo Saipov, who was charged in Tuesday's truck attack, immigrated
to the United States from Uzbekistan in 2010 after winning a lottery
enabling him to obtain a so-called "diversity visa," two government
officials confirmed to Reuters.
The program, established by Congress and coordinated by the State
Department, has its roots in efforts to bring more Irish and Italian
immigrants into the United States. Citizens of countries that send
relatively few immigrants to the United States can enter a lottery that
grants winners permanent U.S. residency. Applicants must have at least a
high school education or its equivalent, or relevant work experience.
Just under 11.4 million applicants entered the 2016 lottery for 50,000
slots available to winners and their close family members, according to
State Department figures.
The visa program has succeeded in diversifying the mix of immigrants
that come into the United States each year, but has also drawn criticism
for being vulnerable to fraud and for posing national security risks.
Trump said on Wednesday he would ask Congress to "immediately" initiate
efforts to kill the program, and Republican House Judiciary Committee
Chairman Bob Goodlatte, who has long called for an end to diversity
visas, said in a statement that they pose "a threat to the safety of our
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer helped create the program in 1990
when he was a member of the House of Representatives. But he was also
part of a group of lawmakers in 2013 who crafted a bipartisan
immigration bill that would have done away with the program. That bill
was passed by the Senate but was killed by the Republican-led House.
Top congressional Democrats on Wednesday defended the program, saying it
subjects all visa recipients "to the same stringent vetting as all other
immigrant visa programs."
The only other known instance of a diversity visa beneficiary carrying
out a deadly terrorist attack in the United States occurred in 2002.
That year, an Egyptian man who had received a diversity visa through his
wife years earlier shot and killed two people in a Los Angeles airport.
The man had earlier sought asylum in the United States but was rejected.
Ultimately, he was allowed to stay in the country after his wife won the
[to top of second column]
Law enforcement officials investigate an area along West Street a
day after a man driving a rented pickup truck mowed down pedestrians
and cyclists on a bike path alongside the Hudson River in New York
City, in New York, U.S. November 1, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
As early as 2004, the State Department's then-deputy inspector
general, Anne Patterson, told Congress her office believed the
diversity program "contains significant vulnerabilities to national
security" and that terrorists could "attempt to use it to enter the
United States as permanent residents." The agency watchdog
recommended barring citizens of countries that sponsor terrorism
from the program.
Over the years, government audits have exposed sophisticated fraud
schemes targeting the program, including extortion rackets, sham
marriages and the use of fake identification documents.
In 2007, Congress's Government Accountability Office issued a report
noting that federal law enforcers "believe that some individuals,
including terrorists and criminals, could use fraudulent means to
enter or remain in the United States."
The report found, however, "no documented evidence" that diversity
visa immigrants "posed a terrorist or other threat."
A September 2013 State Department inspector general report found
that "organized fraud rings masquerading as travel agencies" had
hijacked the diversity visa program in Ukraine. Under the scheme,
Ukrainians were entered in the lottery without their consent, and
then held up for money in exchange for the chance to claim a visa or
encouraged to enter into sham marriages if they won.
(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; editing by Sue Horton and Jonathan
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