Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

After NYC Attack, Trump Takes Aim At Visa Program That Allowed Suspect Into U.S.


Yesterday's terror attack in New York City was carried out by a man from Uzbekistan. He's been in the U.S. legally since 2010, and he entered through a visa lottery program run by the State Department. Today President Trump attacked that program and the New York Democrat who helped establish it nearly 30 years ago. NPR's Brian Naylor has more.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: The program is known as the Diversity Visa Lottery. It allows some 50,000 people into the country each year. Before his cabinet meeting this morning, President Trump blasted the program and hinted its days are numbered.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I'm going to ask Congress to immediately initiate work to get rid of this program - diversary (ph) and diversity lottery. Diversity lottery - sounds nice. It's not nice. It's not good. It's not good. It hasn't been good. We've been against it.

NAYLOR: Earlier in the day, Trump tweeted his opposition, citing the news program "Fox And Friends," which, along with other conservative media outlets, had been discussing the issue. Trump called the diversity visa program, quote, "a Chuck Schumer beauty." That's a reference to the Senate minority leader from New York, a sponsor of the 1990 immigration bill that included the lottery program. It had bipartisan support and was signed into law by Republican president George H.W. Bush.

In 2013, Schumer tried to end the program as part of a big immigration overhaul that was blocked by GOP opposition in the House. Schumer today accused the president of dividing the country and leveled his own criticism of Trump's proposed budget cuts in anti-terrorism programs.


CHUCK SCHUMER: I am calling on the president to rescind his proposed cuts to this vital anti-terrorism funding immediately. Instead of dividing, instead of politicizing, do something real, Mr. President. Restore these funds now.

NAYLOR: Those cuts would chop $600 million in grants to state and local law enforcement agencies, programs that New York City officials say are vital to their counterterrorism efforts. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, also criticized Trump for his tweets.


ANDREW CUOMO: You play into the hands of the terrorists to the extent you disrupt and divide and frighten people in this society.

NAYLOR: The diversity visa program began as a way to expand the number of countries from which immigrants come to the U.S. Michele Bond is the former assistant secretary of state for consular affairs.

MICHELE BOND: The idea behind it was that the immigrants who were coming to the United States to a very large degree tended to come from the same relatively small number of countries.

NAYLOR: That's because most immigrants are sponsored by family members already here, what's known as chain migration. So countries like Mexico or the Philippines tend to have a high number of people applying for visas while other nations, including places like Uzbekistan, don't.

BOND: So Congress' though was, let's have a limited program where people can apply in a lottery system for the chance to apply for an immigrant visa to the United States.

NAYLOR: Those immigrants were subject to the same background checks as all others applying for U.S. green cards. Bond said the program, though limited, worked. But Trump and conservatives in Congress want to end it and all chain migration into the U.S. and replace it with a merit-based system. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.