So much for putting politics aside in the immediate wake of an attack, eh? After police identified Uzbeki immigrant Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov as the truck terrorist responsible for at least eight deaths in New York City yesterday, a few media figures tried manipulating the story to score points for their own hobby horses, and got promptly blasted on social media for it. Don’t play politics with tragedy, people demanded. Let’s keep the focus where it belongs — on stopping radical Islamist terrorism.
What about when the president uses it to hammer his political opponents on … immigration reform?
Trump followed up by quoting a Fox and Friends segment on the topic:
It’s true that Saipov gained entry to the US through the lottery process, as Jazz noted in his earlier post. However, Saipov got here in 2010, long before the refugee crisis began in Europe. Furthermore, those refugees aren’t coming from Uzbekistan, a country in central Asia (not Europe, although it’s in the Europe region for the DV lottery system), but mainly from Syria and North Africa, mainly Libya. Uzbekistan has been a major recruiting source for Islamist terror networks, but it has also been a key partner in US military operations in Afghanistan. It’s a complicated part of the world.
Furthermore, the lottery program still requires the normal visa application process. Trump suspended visa and refugee applications from eight countries earlier this year over concerns about reliable information from those countries, but Uzbekistan was not on those lists. On top of that, there has been no evidence made public that Saipov was radicalized in Uzbekistan, then waited seven years and then decided to conduct a truck attack and arm himself with two non-firearm pistols (reportedly a paint-ball gun and a BB gun). That’s not the MO of a sleeper agent with years to prepare, but more of a recently radicalized impulse attacker.
Besides, Schumer didn’t have anything to do with it. The lottery system in question was part of the Immigration Act of 1990 signed into law by President George H. W. Bush in 1990 — twenty years before Saipov entered the US. That was initially introduced in the Senate by Ted Kennedy, not Chuck Schumer, who wasn’t among the co-sponsors either — because he didn’t start serving in the Senate until 1999. (Schumer was in the House, but didn’t serve on the Judiciary Committee that produced the bill.) [see update] The Senate co-sponsors were Democrats Chris Dodd and Daniel Moynihan, and Republicans Alan Simpson and Alfonse D’Amato. Schumer had agreed to get rid of it in the Gang of Eight immigration reform bill, which got torched by Trump and his supporters during the presidential campaign, Seung Min Kim notes, but of course Saipov had been in the US for a few years at that point anyway.
Getting rid of the Diversity Visa Lottery program is a good idea for other reasons, as is tightening visa requirements on the basis of merit. However, that has little to do with the terrorist attack in NYC yesterday. The DV program admits 50,000 people a year to the US, and has for 27 years, for a theoretical total of 1.35 million visas over that period of time. Saipov appears to be the only entrant on that program that has committed a terrorist act. The DV program doesn’t appear to be this problem, even if it’s arguably a silly program that should be eliminated.
The DV program is not the proximate cause of the Saipov attack. We need to wait for the facts of the case to be established to see what can be done to prevent these attacks in the future, within the Constitution and our rights as free citizens. Jumping to conclusions won’t solve anything, and will only undermine efforts to find effective responses.
When Democrats seize on shootings to argue that free citizens can’t be trusted with firearm ownership, we accuse them of manipulating tragedy for their political agendas. When they ignore the facts of those cases to call for gun control policies that would have done nothing to stop the attacks, we rightly accuse them of exploitation. We should not fall into the same trap ourselves, no matter which of our allies do it.
Update: The Right Scoop says that a Numbers USA brief shows that the DV program was “Schumer’s baby” in the House version of the bill. Even that brief, though, shows that the DV program had already been proposed, and that Schumer was proposing a wider version of it in the House via the Immigration subcommittee. The eventual bill split the difference between those proposals. Did Schumer have some impact on it? Yes, but it didn’t start with him, and others had a lot more to do with its eventual bipartisan passage. Plus as noted above, there’s zero evidence that the DV lottery has turned into a terrorist sieve.
Update: Twitter pal Zaggs notes that the Washington Post gives Schumer a little more credit:
— Zaggs (@Zaggs) November 1, 2017
Schumer offered a different version of a DV lottery that had already been floated, as Numbers USA notes in its analysis. At the time, Schumer was a House backbencher, a member of the Immigration subcommittee but not a leader in the Democratic caucus, or even a committee chair. He rose to prominence in the 1995 House investigation of the Waco shootings, helping to defend Bill Clinton and his administration. Schumer may have pushed for a wider DV program and helped expand it from its original proposed limit of 25,000, but he didn’t author it or the bill, and lots of people had much more influence on its passage. And again, there’s nothing on the table to suggest that the DV program had any real impact on this attack or any future vulnerabilities that differs in any way from the regular visa programs.