On Tuesday afternoon, a green card holder from Uzbekistan mowed down some innocent tourists in New York City. It was the deadliest terrorist attack on New York since Sept. 11, 2001. Of the eight people who died, six were foreigners themselves, here on visitor visas. The other two were U.S. citizens.
I have to talk about the nationality of the deceased, because it’s become a big deal since President Trump decided to make nationality an issue. When it was discovered that the man who murdered those innocent people was a foreigner, my first thought was: Is he undocumented?
No such luck, folks.
He is here legally. So my next question was: Was he one of those non-vetted refugees from a travel-ban country?
So then, how he had ever gotten into the United States in the first place? The answer (drum roll, please!) was the Diversity Visa Lottery, an obscure and relatively unimportant program that has been around for over two decades. Most people wouldn’t know the Visa Lottery from the Pennsylvania Lottery, and that’s as it should be. A very small percentage of foreigners get the right to live in this country through this hit-and-miss program.
But of course, in this day and age when everything is about “identity” — thanks to the multicultural cultists — we suddenly become fixated on the culture and formation of the foreigner who killed other foreigners. Trump has become even more fixated on it, since his nemesis Chuck Schumer was an early sponsor of the legislation (back when Trump was in the business of building and closing casinos).
The sick piece of trash who killed those innocent New Yorkers — they will now always be New Yorkers — got his visa through the lottery. The program was authorized by Congress in 1990 and first implemented five years later. I started practicing immigration law in 1995, around the time the first diversity visas were made available, and I wasn’t too interested in the program. Diversity, underserved parts of the world, fresh blood, Emma Lazarus. This is the premise of our whole immigration system.
I understand the principle, because I respect the idea of the “melting pot” of cultures. We want that delicious demographic stew that comes from a multitude of flavors, not just a few Puritan strains. Grandma and Grandpa might have come over on the Mayflower, but that doesn’t mean they were particularly interesting, appetizing or industrious. They were just early to the party.
Ironically, one of the main reasons the Diversity Lottery was inaugurated was in response to President Ronald Reagan’s 1986 amnesty gift to Mexico. In that year, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people who were living illegally in the U.S. were legalized, which completely changed the demographic balance in the country.
So Congress created the Diversity Visa program as part of the larger restructuring, figuring that 55,000 visas was a relative drop in the bucket in terms of volume. (It was later reduced to 50,000.) Congress was right. Each year, an average of one million people get their green cards. More than half of them are already here and change their status from tourist, student, refugee or other temporary status to permanent resident. That leaves 400,000 to 500,000 people who come in with no prior history. Of that number, only 50,000 are admitted through the lottery.
I’ve heard the argument that we shouldn’t put too much value on a person’s identity. That’s legitimate. I despise the sort of identity politics that places value on skin color, sexual orientation, or gender. In making those factors important, we turn human beings into Mr. Potato Heads, valued primarily because of their parts and pieces. As an immigration attorney, I look at these people as people and not for their value as nationals of certain countries.
But I see why Congress wanted to balance the scales in 1990, to give a numerically small window to those who had no other prospects.
The Diversity Visa lottery has brought about 1.1 million people to the United States since 1995.These people all had to have high school diplomas or experience as skilled workers. They were all “extremely” vetted. And only two of them, 15 years apart, committed acts of terror.
I almost failed math, but even I know that “one in every 550,000” is statistically insignificant.
While I am tired of the right’s politicizing immigration in general after terrorist acts, I’m really sick and tired of the left’s constantly making “gun control” arguments after attacks where immigration is not an issue, as was done Las Vegas and Newtown, Connecticut. It is clearly political opportunism.
So we can debate the value of the lottery system, but we shouldn’t use the deaths of six foreigners and two Americans to make a political statement.
Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.