NEW YORK—Following a terror attack in Lower Manhattan that left eight people dead and at least 11 wounded, President Donald Trump renewed his call for ending the visa program that had originally admitted the terrorist.
On Oct. 31, an Uzbek national, Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, allegedly drove a Home Depot rental truck onto a bike path for 20 city blocks.
The suspect allegedly had a note in his car saying he carried out the attack in the name of the ISIS terrorist group and had a photo of the ISIS flag. After crashing into a school bus, he shouted Islamic slogans as he waved a paintball gun and pellet gun in the air.
Saipov was stopped by New York police officer Ryan Nash, 28, who shot the suspect in the abdomen and arrested him, ending the deadliest terrorist attack in New York since the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
Following the Manhattan attack, Trump pointed out that the terrorist was allowed into the United States by the diversity visa lottery program, which was introduced in 1990 by now Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush.
“I am today starting the process of terminating the diversity lottery program. I’m going to ask Congress to immediately initiate work to get rid of this program,” Trump said on Nov. 1.
Trump said his administration is instead looking at a merit-based program. The proposal suggests introducing a points-based system for awarding green cards (lawful permanent residency) based on factors that allow individuals to successfully assimilate and support themselves financially, including education level, English ability, and job skills.
The diversity visa (DV) has been criticized in the past for gaps that could allow terrorists into the United States. The program gives 50,000 permanent visas annually, and is based on a system that grants permanent resident visas on a random basis to individuals from countries with otherwise low immigration rates to the United States.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the diversity visa lottery has the lowest level of vetting criteria of any part of the immigration system.
“We have a fundamental right to protect this country,” Sanders said at the Nov. 1 press briefing.
A September 2007 report from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office noted that the program opened vulnerabilities to terrorists.
“In 2003, State’s Inspector General raised concerns that aliens from countries designated as state sponsors of terrorism can apply for diversity visas,” states the report, adding that “”Consular officers at 6 posts reported that widespread use of fake documents, such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, and passports, presented challenges when verifying the identities of applicants and dependents.”
It also noted that there is a system of corruption around the DV program, stating, “Some agents take advantage of DV applicants; visa agents in Bangladesh have intercepted applicants’ program documents and charged ransoms of up to $20,000 or coerced applicants into sham DV marriages.”
Schumer might be open to Trump’s call for ending the diversity visa, as the failed bipartisan gang of eight immigration bill, which Schumer helped sponsor in 2013, did so.
Republican senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue have authored the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act, which Trump backs, that would end the visa program.
Trump was in the Oval Office when he found out about the attack, in a briefing by White House Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly not long after the incident.
In his first response to the attack, early in the evening of Oct. 31, Trump indicated he would look into creating stronger vetting programs to prevent terrorists from entering the United States. He said on Twitter, “I have just ordered Homeland Security to step up our already Extreme Vetting Program. Being politically correct is fine, but not for this!”
He reiterated those comments a day later, saying, “We have to get much tougher. We have to get much smarter. And we have to get much less politically correct. ”
“We have to do what’s right to protect our citizens. We will never waver in the defense of our beloved country—ever. And we’ll never, ever forget the beautiful lives that have been taken from us,” he said.
Trump has not yet called for a travel ban on Uzbekistan, but Sanders said he has not ruled it out.
Trucks as Weapons
The attack in Manhattan follows a string of attacks in which terrorists have used vehicles as their primary weapons.
In June, an Islamic extremist, Khuram Butt, killed eight people by running down pedestrians on London Bridge, then stabbing others with knives while chanting Islamic slogans.
In August, Islamic terrorists killed 13 people and injured more than 100 after driving a van down one of the most popular streets in Barcelona.
In July 2016, another Islamic extremist killed more than 80 people in Nice, France, by driving a truck onto a sidewalk for more than a mile as locals were celebrating Bastille Day.
The method of using vehicles for terrorist attacks was promoted by the terrorist organization al-Qaeda in 2010. Its “Inspire” magazine encouraged terrorists to weld steel blades onto trucks to create the “ultimate mowing machine.”
The use of vehicles by terrorist groups has added another dimension to police efforts to prevent terrorism. During public events in many big cities, including New York, authorities place dump trucks and other barriers on streets leading to the events to guard against such attacks.
“Terrorists are constantly seeking to strike our nation, and it will require the unflinching devotion to our law enforcement, homeland security, and intelligence professionals to keep America safe,” Trump said. “We will take all necessary steps to protect our people and our communities, and to protect our nation as a whole.”