In 2010, the suspect in the most deadly New York City terrorist attack since 9/11 entered the United States on Diversity Immigrant Visa Program visa, a State Department program that grants one percent of applicants admission to the country on a green card. The program is intended to bring diversity to America’s immigration landscape from countries with low immigration rates. Each applicant undergoes the same screening process, which includes background checks, interviews, medical exams and more.
Sayfullo Saipov, who committed the terror attack in New York that left eight dead and 12 injured, entered the U.S. with this program.
In response to this fact, President Donald Trump called for immediate action on Wednesday, appealing to Congress to end the program as soon as possible.
Trump said, “We have to come up with a punishment that’s much worse than what these animals are getting now.” Trump also hopes to end the process of “chain migration,” which is when immigrants are granted admission because they already have relatives living in the United States. “We will take all of the necessary steps to take care of our communities and our country has a whole,” said the President. “What we have now is a joke and a laughingstock.”
In a series of tweets following his appeal to Congress on Wednesday, Trump wrote, “The terrorist came into our country through what is called the ‘Diversity Visa Lottery Program,’ a Chuck Schumer beauty. I want merit based.” He also tweeted, “No more Democratic lottery.” Chuck Schumer retorted by tweeting, “I guess it’s never too soon to politicize a tragedy.”
What separates Saipov, the murderous ISIS loyalist, from the other 50,000 (maximum) immigrants accepted by the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program each year? Many argue Saipov was a product of a problem far worse than terrorists entering the United States on the visas Trump aims to eliminate: homegrown terrorism. According to the criminal complaint filed Wednesday, Saipov felt “good” about his actions and requested an ISIS flag to be hung in his room at Bellevue Hospital as he lay in recovery after being shot by police. He candidly relayed to investigators his plan to “use a truck in order to inflict maximum damage against civilians” after watching ISIS videos on his cellphone a year earlier.
Like terrorists before him, including the infamous assailant of Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub Omar Mateen, Saippov wasn’t raised on radical Islam or brainwashed to despise the United States and its values. His introduction to ISIS and its violent fundamentalist preachings began on American soil. Investigators found about 90 ISIS propaganda videos 4,000 ISIS-related images on Saipov’s phone. According to George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, the majority of individuals charged in the United States with ISIS-related offenses have been U.S. citizens (58 percent) or permanent residents (6 percent), not offshore immigrants grappling to gain entrance into the U.S. While immigration reform is badly needed, tasking Congress with the issue doesn’t change that ISIS’s thrives online.
Francesca Friday is New York City-based National Politics contributor for Observer. Follow her on Twitter: @friday_tweets_