Trump Targets Immigration Law After NY Attack

In an addendum to the recent New York City attack in which an Uzbek national inspired by ISIS propaganda, killed eight people with a pickup truck, President Trump has vowed to strike down parts of US immigration policy that allowed the attacker to enter the country. 

What Trump was referring to is the well known Diversity Visa lottery program, a feature of American immigration law since 1995 when it was codified with the backing of Senate Democrats including, as the President was quick to point out, the current New York Senator Chuck Schumer. The program brings 50,000 individuals every year into the United States. Shortly after initial reports of the attack had been released, an ABC media report revealed that the attacker had entered the country via the Diversity program in 2010.

In Trump’s response to the attack, he mocked the immigration policy stating: “Diversity lottery. Sounds nice, it's not good. Not good. It hasn't been good, and we've been against it.” 

Some observers have focused on the moot point of the lottery policy’s origins. According to these voices, the program should not be targeted because it was, in its inception, meant to assist European immigrants and not open the door to risk ridden nations. No policy should ever be judged based on the intention of its enactors. The only relevant issue is assessing the results the law is producing in American society. Here, there are two important points that the president has brought up that, despite Trump’s notorious lack of tact, cannot be ignored.   

First of all is the issue that became the subject of tremendous public controversy following Trump’s notorious travel ban: Should certain countries be categorically barred from American immigration based on the risks of importing violent extremism? Since its implementation, critics have attacked the ban as an ineffective tool in preventing attacks in America. This criticism has continued in various forms through recent months. Now we have an actual example of an attack that would have been prevented with tighter immigration rules.   

The second is a point based more on principle, regardless of any attached security considerations. Should a program that introduces random immigrants into the US be part of America’s immigration policy at all? As the president put it, shouldn’t all immigration be “merit based”? To be clear, merit based need not be determined by how much a given individual can contribute to the American economy. Factors like education and work experience are relevant but other considerations such as the safety of a candidate's country of origin also can and should be assessed, as they are currently in US asylum granting policy.  

In the meantime, Trump has claimed to have ordered the Department of Homeland Security to “step up” immigration vetting. It is yet to be seen how much support Trump’s calls for action will receive amongst legislators, and if they don’t, what unilateral steps the president may attempt to take himself. 

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