President Donald Trump said Wednesday that the Uzbek immigrant suspected of murdering eight people in New York City with a rental truck entered the U.S. through the “Diversity Visa Lottery Program” and the president charged Sen. Chuck Schumer and Democrats had loosened the nation’s borders.
Trump did not provide any supporting evidence for the claim about the visa program, which was being discussed on the morning TV program “Fox and Friends” that the president indicated in his tweets he was watching.
“The terrorist came into our country through what is called the ‘Diversity Visa Lottery Program,’ a Chuck Schumer beauty. I want merit based,” Trump tweeted.
“We are fighting hard for Merit Based immigration, no more Democrat Lottery Systems. We must get MUCH tougher (and smarter) @foxandfriends,” Trump tweeted, citing the morning program whose hosts were discussing the visa lottery.
“Senator Chuck Schumer helping to import Europes problems, said Col.Tony Shaffer. We will stop this craziness! @foxandfriends,” Trump added, appearing to reference a retired U.S. Army Reserve Lieutenant Colonel who appeared on the program Wednesday.
Moments later, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that the the suspect in the attack had entered the U.S. “through a diversity program, a lottery program.” He did not elaborate.
Schumer, for his part, shot back at Trump on Twitter: “I guess it’s not too soon to politicize a tragedy.”
In a statement, the New York senator slammed Trump for “dividing America” and called on the president not to follow through on proposed cuts to “vital anti-terrorism funding.”
“I have always believed and continue to believe that immigration is good for America,” Schumer said. “President Trump, instead of politicizing and dividing America, which he always seems to do at times of national tragedy, should be focusing on the real solution — anti-terrorism funding — which he proposed cutting in his most recent budget.”
The Trump-Schumer back and forth came less than 24 hours after eight people were killed and about a dozen more were injured when a motorist in a rented pickup truck deliberately drove down a bike path in lower Manhattan and mowed down several people before crashing into a school bus in what officials said was a terrorist attack.
Police found a note inside the truck that was used indicating the suspect claimed to have carried out the attack for the Islamic State terrorist group.
The suspect was identified as a 29-year-old Uzbek immigrant named Sayfullo Saipov, who entered the United States in 2010, law enforcement officials said. It wasn’t immediately clear under what circumstances Saipov came to the United States.
According to The New York Times, he had obtained a green card, giving him permanent legal resident status in the U.S.
Trump, in his tweets Wednesday, was apparently referring to the Diversity Immigrant Visa lottery, which was established by the Immigration Act of 1990. That bill was passed with bipartisan support and signed into law by then-President George H.W. Bush.
The program allows the State Department to offer 50,000 visas annually to immigrants from countries with low immigration rates.
Democrats quickly hit back against Trump’s claims.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that “it was kind of absurd (for Trump)…to be using it as a fulcrum for … this kind of a debate.”
“I don’t think this is the time to get political,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “There is no doubt we have to be smarter and have more intelligence… but there is also no doubt that is not the time to play politics, to foment hate, this is not the time to divide.”
At least one Republican defended the diversity visa lottery.
“To be honest with you, I’ve known a number of people in New York who come in under the lottery system, they’ve made outstanding contributions, they’ve become citizens,” Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., a former House Homeland Security Committee Chairman, told Fox Business Channel. “So that really is separate from the idea of the vetting.”
According to the State Department, diversity visa lottery applicants must meet certain education and work experience requirements, like having obtained “at least a high school education or its equivalent” or “two years of work experience within the past five years in an occupation that requires at least two years of training or experience to perform.”
People who are not from an eligible country can also qualify if their spouse was born in an eligible country.
The State Department determines selectees through a randomized computer drawing, its website states.
In 2013, a bipartisan group of senators known as the “Gang of Eight” proposed an compromise immigration reform bill that would have eliminated the diversity lottery. The bill did not make it through Congress.