Sayfullo Saipov, the suspect in the New York City attack that left eight people dead, is an immigrant from Uzbekistan who entered the United States in 2010 through the diversity visa lottery program. Now President Trump has called for a crackdown on immigration, telling Congress to cancel the program. We speak with Yolanda Rondon, staff attorney with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, who argues that blaming the visa program “scapegoats the vulnerable, which always happens to be immigrants under this administration.”
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking about the Tuesday attack in New York City that left eight people dead, at least 11 people injured, President Trump calling for a crackdown now on immigration, telling Congress to cancel the so-called diversity visa program.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I am going to ask Congress to immediately initiate work to get rid of this program—diversary and diversity lottery. Diversity lottery sounds nice. It’s not nice. It’s not good. It’s not good. It hasn’t been good.
AMY GOODMAN: But not everyone’s on board. This is Republican Congressmember Peter King here in New York, a former House Homeland Security Committee chair, defending the diversity visa lottery during an interview Wednesday on the Fox Business Channel.
REP. PETER KING: To be honest with you, I’ve known a number of people in New York who’ve come in under the lottery system who have made outstanding contributions. They become citizens. So that really is separate from the idea of the vetting.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring into this conversation Yolanda Rondon, a staff attorney for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, known as ADC, joining us from Washington, D.C. Yolanda, talk about what this diversity visa lottery is.
YOLANDA RONDON: Well, we, you know, essentially rebut the idea that our country is diverse enough—right?—and that’s why we no longer need a diversity visa, right? The diversity visa program was inspired and pushed to provide access and opportunity that, without this, many persons across the world would not have access to, you know, work hard and build toward the American dream and provide for their families and get the innovation that only the United States can provide. And we see this throughout the country. But particularly diversity visa holders I know, as well as recipients, are our engineers, like [inaudible], right?—and are our Ph.D. doctors for linguistics, like Hamed, right? And so, this diversity visa process and program is not—it should not be removed based solely and replaced with a merit-based program, right? That is key and coin term to exclude people who are poor and people of color, right? And so, people essentially who are poor and do not have the access to wealth to ensure that their parents are able to send them to the top, top schools, and etc., are essentially excluded. Remember Germany nationals benefited from this program, as well as Spanish nationals, French nationals, right? So it’s not particularly a program that’s without merit.
And it’s extremely extensive, broad inter-agency review, checks and reviews that last for two years, in addition to reports and reviews regarding people’s identity, 15 years of history on their residence, their employment, as well as their family and relatives. And any diversity visa holder that does sponsor someone else or a point of contact into the country, of course, they go through the same immigration review process that all immigrants go through that enter this country, right? There is no special rule for diversity visa holders. And to suggest otherwise is to suggest that, for some instance, black and brown people just don’t play by the same rules. And that’s the messaging and undertones behind this word of use of “security,” right? This is not about security, and merit or employment is not a definitive factor to have security or safety.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about Trump’s tweets about the so-called merit-based immigration program. He said, “The terrorist came into our country through what is called the 'Diversity Visa Lottery Program,' a Chuck Schumer beauty. I want merit based.” Trump also wrote, quote, “We are fighting hard for Merit Based immigration, no more Democrat Lottery Systems. We must get MUCH tougher (and smarter),” he said, right away, actually, after the attack, blaming Chuck Schumer for the attack. Yolanda Rondon?
YOLANDA RONDON: Yes. No Democrat or particular politician should be blamed for the diversity visa program, right? Particularly, it was a bipartisan bill and policy that was put into place to, again, provide access and opportunity. As many are aware, both McCain and Grassley, as well as even Mitch McConnell himself, supported this bill, and was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1990. And so, essentially, the diversity visa program has been operating for 27 years, right? And there hasn’t been a problem. And so, the diversity visa program is not the cause, right? Violence is the problem, right? And violence does not know immigration status or citizenship status, right?
What’s really at heart, at issue, here is that this is not a debate about diversity versus safety or security. But there is clearly shown a lapse in information sharing—right?—a lapse in connecting the dots to prevent violence or attacks like the one that occurred in New York City. The fact remains is that if someone does not have a criminal past or history, there is no way to know who is or who is not going to commit a crime, right? So, to blame the diversity visa program is to essentially scapegoat the most vulnerable, which always happens to be immigrants, under this administration.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about how this was characterized in the media, you know, immediately calling this a terror attack? It was not so—the media was not so ready to call James Alex Fields in Charlottesville a terror attack, when he took a vehicle, he rammed a car into a group of people and killed a young woman named Heather Heyer.
YOLANDA RONDON: Yes, of course it wasn’t covered like that, right? Because it falls into the same messaging that only people of color or people, the undesirables, are or can be terrorists, right? It was immediate in the messaging that, “Oh, hey, what happened to this guy in New York City that he wasn’t assimilated enough?” Well, was what happened in Charlottesville, was that perpetrator assimilated enough? Right? It shows and is reflected of the fact that violence occurs across this country every single day, and we’re not able to pinpoint—we’re not going to remove people from this country or revoke people’s citizenship and say, “Hey, no more, no more.” No. Right? And so, it’s essentially the same media coverage that they want to paint Arab and Muslims as terrorists.
And it’s also the essential same ties to the fact that, hey, we had this mass surveillance spying program in New York City, which was extremely unconstitutional, right? And so this just should not be used as an excuse to revamp up those efforts, right? And that’s why the messaging is like that, right? Because they want to re-engage and reupsert the profiling and trying to use this as a license to profile Arabs and Muslims, right? So this is always part of a larger aspect of upping the surveillance and security industry and the unfortunate targeting of people of color.