On Wednesday, a day after the deadly van attack in New York City, President Donald Trump used the tragedy to call for the elimination of a small but significant immigration program. After calling the suspect, Sayfullo Saipov, an “animal,” Trump said he would ask Congress to shut down the method through which Saipov entered the United States from his native Uzbekistan.
“I am today starting the process of terminating the diversity-lottery program,” Trump said in a meeting. Trump, though, cannot do away with it on his own; he needs Congress’s approval. “Diversity lottery. Sounds nice, it’s not good. Not good. It hasn’t been good, and we’ve been against it,” he told reporters.
He also called for an end to “chain migration”—as Trump derisively calls it when a US citizen or green-card holder sponsors a family member’s visa—and to replace the current system with “a merit-based program, where people come into our country based on merit.”
That’s a lot of immigration politi-jargon, and doing away with “chain migration” would not have kept Saipov out of the country. (Neither, for that matter, would the enforcement of any iteration of Trump’s Muslim bans.) But cutting out the diversity-visa lottery would have kept Saipov from entering legally.
All of Trump’s anti-immigration goals are included in the RAISE Act, a bill introduced earlier this year by Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA). This legislation, which the Trump administration backs, would likely slash in half the number of people allowed to immigrate to the United States. The bill would cut off the pipelines that have made it possible for Latinos and Asians to be the fastest-growing segments of the US population. At its core, the RAISE Act is the expression of white existential desperation triggered by the country’s swiftly changing demographics. The Halloween-afternoon attack just gave the president a handy excuse to return to his old refrain. Among the proposals in the RAISE Act is a call to eliminate the diversity-lottery visa.
Only 50,000 of these visas are awarded every year, and the program was designed to mix up the pool of legal immigrants to this country. Only those who were born in countries outside of the top immigrant-sending countries may apply. (People born in Canada? India? China? Mexico? The Philippines? The diversity visa is not for them.) From there, the eligibility requirements are low: Anyone with the equivalent of a high-school diploma may enter. And because of that, it’s a perennially popular lottery. A decade ago, 9 million people entered the lottery. And it’s only gotten more popular. In 2015, more than 15 million people entered. Those who are awarded these visas must clear the same screening process that all immigrants do: criminal background checks, biometric data gathering, and fingerprinting.