Trump calls for scrapping diversity visa program after New York attack


Donald Trump is pictured. | AP Photo

President Donald Trump suggested Wednesday that NYC attacker was responsible for the entry of as many as 23 other immigrants into the U.S. via a process sometimes called chain migration | Andrew Harnik/AP Photo

The White House also said it considers the suspect an ‘enemy combatant.’




President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he wants Congress to end the visa program that allowed the man suspected in Tuesday’s New York City attack to enter the country legally, and the White House said it considers the man an “enemy combatant.”

Trump blamed Democrats, particularly Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, for the Diversity Visa Lottery program, which the Department of Homeland Security said allowed Sayfullo Saipov, an immigrant from Uzbekistan, to come to the U.S. legally in 2010.

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“Diversity lottery. Sounds nice. It’s not nice. It’s not good. It’s not good. It hasn’t been good, and we’ve been against it,” the president said in remarks at the start of a cabinet meeting at the White House. “We need strength. We need resolve. We have to stop it. We need to get rid of this lottery program as soon as possible. He came in through the diversity program, as you know, and we’re going to stop it. We’re going to as quickly as possible get rid of chain migration and go to a merit-based system.”

“The terrorist came into our country through what is called the ‘Diversity Visa Lottery Program,’ a Chuck Schumer beauty. I want merit based,” Trump wrote on Twitter, adding that there would be “no more Democrat Lottery Systems. We must get MUCH tougher (and smarter).”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday afternoon that Trump did not intend to blame Schumer for the attack in the state he represents but that “we do think that there are policies that could be put in place that help protect American citizens.”

Tuesday’s attack began just after 2 p.m. in New York, when a driver in a truck drove down a Manhattan bike path, brandishing air guns and yelling “God is great” in Arabic. Officials said they believe Saipov, who is in police custody, was the driver.

Trump suggested Wednesday that Saipov was responsible for the entry of as many as 23 other immigrants into the U.S. via a process sometimes called chain migration, by which family members of a legal immigrant are given a smoother path to entry. Trump did not offer a source for his badertion that the alleged truck driver had helped facilitate the movement of others into the country.

The diversity program offers visas to individuals from nations that otherwise have relatively few immigrants in the U.S. The program’s origins are based in a 1990 bill introduced by Schumer, who was then a member of the House, that was then absorbed into a larger immigration bill co-sponsored by 32 lawmakers, a group that included Schumer and six Republicans.

Trump has argued for an overhaul of the nation’s immigration system, advocating a dramatic cut in the number of refugees admitted by the U.S., “extreme vetting” of those entering the U.S. and the implementation of a merit-based system for immigrants.

Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona, both Republicans, both said on Wednesday the suspect should be held as an enemy combatant, a designation that would grant him fewer rights than other detainees.

Sanders agreed with that on Wednesday afternoon. Trump also said in response to a reporter’s question that he would “certainly consider” sending Saipov to the military detention facility at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

American officials have never sent a terrorism suspect from U.S. soil to Guantanamo, although President George W. Bush designated three individuals as enemy combatants and held them in military custody in the U.S.

Unlike a U.S. citizen, Saipov could be subject to trial by a military commission, either at Guantanamo or in the U.S. However, many experts said the cumbersome, slow and trouble-plagued military commission system is unlikely to deliver the kind of swift justice Trump demanded Wednesday.

“If the president truly wants ‘quick justice’ and ‘strong justice,’ he should never consider designating this suspect as an ‘enemy combatant’ or sending him to Guantanamo Bay,” retired Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Charles Krulak said. “Federal courts have a track record of fairly and expeditiously dealing with terrorism suspects, having handled more than six hundred cases since 9/11. The criminal justice process has enabled our government to gather timely, actionable intelligence to drive our counterterrorism efforts.”

Trump’s decision to lash out at Schumer quickly prompted criticism that he was reverting to politics at an inappropriate time. Schumer urged him to push for more antiterrorism funding from Congress.

“I have always believed and continue to believe that immigration is good for America. President Trump, instead of politicizing and dividing America, which he always seems to do at times of national tragedy, should be focusing on the real solution — anti-terrorism funding — which he proposed cutting in his most recent budget,” Schumer said. “I’m calling on the President to immediately rescind his proposed cuts to this vital anti-terrorism funding.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio agreed, telling CNN’s “New Day” that “the last thing the president or anyone else should do is politicize this tragedy. … The last thing we should do is start casting aspersions on whole races of people or whole religions or whole nations. That only makes the situation worse.”

Both de Blasio and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said they had received phone calls and offers of federal badistance from acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, and de Blasio said he had also spoken Tuesday to White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert. Later Wednesday, Sanders said Trump had spoken to both de Blasio and Cuomo.

Schumer and the president have clashed frequently throughout Trump’s first months in office, with the president pinning multiple nicknames on the Senate minority leader, including “head clown” and “cryin’ Chuck Schumer,” in response to criticism from the New York senator. But the two men have also shown glimmers of being able to work together, most notably in September, when it seemed Trump had struck an immigration deal with Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Schumer was caught on a hot C-SPAN microphone at the time, remarking that “he likes me,” an apparent reference to the New York senator’s negotiations with Trump. The warm feelings appear to have been short-lived, though, and the immigration deal that had apparently been struck has stalled, if not fallen through completely.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Duke and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grbadley (R-Iowa) requested information on Saipov, including his immigration history, criminal record and whether he has ever been placed on any terrorism watch lists. A copy of Grbadley’s letter was also sent to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the committee’s ranking member, and FBI Director Christopher Wray.

Tillerson on Wednesday expressed condolences to the victims, noting that a Belgian citizen was killed in the attack.

“Once again, we’ve seen the evil face of terror in our own borders, but this is a face that knows no borders, and certainly Belgium, Europe and other countries have to deal with this evil that confronts us from time to time,” he said.

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