On Tuesday afternoon, a green card holder from Uzbekistan mowed down some innocent tourists in New York, causing the greatest loss of life to terrorism there since September 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, the first thought was: is he undocumented?
No such luck, folks. He was here legally. So the next question became: was he one of those non-vetted refugees from a travel ban country?
Nope, again. He was a green card holder from Uzbekistan (and yes, he was a Muslim, so at least we could gnaw on that for a bit.)
So then, how he had ever gotten into the United States in the first place? And the answer (drumroll 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, 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. And President Trump became even more fixated on it since his nemesis Chuck Schumer was an early sponsor of the legislation (back when Donald was building-and closing-casinos.)
The sick piece of trash who killed those innocent New Yorkers (because 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, yadda yadda. You know the drill. It was all nice happy talk.
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 the 1986 Amnesty, President Reagan’s gift to Mexico. In that year, hundreds of thousand, if not millions of people who were living illegally in the US were legalized, which completely threw off the demographic balance in the country. Lots of cilantro and poblano, not too much curry, saffron, paprika or ginger.
So Congress created the DV program as part of the larger restructuring in the 1990 Act, figuring that 55,000 visas was a relative drop in the bucket in terms of volume (it was later reduced to 50,000. ) They were right. Each year, an average 1 million people get their green cards. Over half of them are already here in the country and change their status from tourist, student, refugee or other temporary status to permanent resident. So that leaves about 400 to 500 thousand who come in fresh, with no prior history. And of that number, 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 totally 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 separate parts and pieces.
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 DV lottery has brought about 1.1 million people here since 1995. These people all had to have high school diplomas or experience as skilled workers. They were all “extremely” vetted. And despite that, only two of them, fifteen years apart, committed acts of terror. I almost failed math, but even I know what “one in every 550,000” is statistically insignificant.
So we can debate the value of the lottery system.
What we can’t do is use the deaths of six foreigners and two Americans to make a political statement. I was repulsed when the anti-gun lobby tried that after Las Vegas. When people on the right use the tactics of their opponents on the left, they end up smelling just as foul.
I guess diversity is a good thing, after all.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.