Shortly after an Islamist terrorist drove a truck onto a bike path in New York City and massacred eight innocents, President Trump took to Twitter to express both his outrage and his policy proposal: ending the so-called diversity visa lottery.
The terrorist in this case, 29-year-old Uzbeki immigrant Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, arrived in the United States in 2010 via the diversity visa lottery. Daniel Horowitz explains just what that is:
[T]he lottery was instituted as part of the 1990 immigration bill and was designed to foster more immigration from countries that don’t typically send large numbers of immigrants to our shores. Ironically, at the time, this meant Europe. … Over 77 percent of the diversity visas over the past decade have come from Africa and Asia. It is estimated that more than half of visa lottery recipients are from countries with a predominantly Muslim population. … Roughly 45,000 to 55,000 individuals come here on green cards issued by this program every year. They don’t need any skills other than a high school diploma or two years of almost any work experience in anything. And given that they often have no ties to America and hail from third-world countries, it’s hard to prevent fraud or to properly vet them. One of the top winning countries of origin in 2016 was Iran, a country from which we’ve admitted 191,000 immigrants since 2001.
All of this is a great argument to get rid of the diversity visa lottery already. So Trump isn’t wrong about dumping it outright.
Trump is only partially-wrong about Schumer — the diversity lottery originated in bipartisan fashion in 1990, with Schumer’s input in the House of Representatives, and which was killed in the Schumer-McCain Gang of 8 proposal that failed to pass the Senate in 2013.
The Democrats, of course, have cried foul, claiming that Trump is now politicizing tragedy after refusing to talk about gun control in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting. That’s hypocritical in the extreme, given the Democrats’ eagerness to politicize Las Vegas, from Jimmy Kimmel to Schumer himself (the day after Vegas, Schumer stated, “What Congress can do, what Congress must do, is pass laws to keep our citizens safe, and that starts with guns, especially laws that help prevent guns, especially the most dangerous guns from falling into the wrong hands”). Democrats are shockingly reticent to talk politics when the policies being suggested run counter to their narratives.
But this raises a question for Republicans, too: why were so many Republicans eager to shut down discussions on gun control while they run to talk about immigration policy? At the time of the Vegas shooting, I called for restraint in policy talk based on three factors: we didn’t know the shooter’s motive (we still don’t); we didn’t know how the shooter acquired his weapons; and finally, because “making policy on the heels of horror is rarely wise.”
The New York City terror attack is different for a couple of reasons: first, we know exactly why this terrorist did what he did; second, we know how he committed his crimes and how he entered the country. So we know much more than we did before. This means we can speak more specifically and accurately about how about to prevent future attacks like this one. And there is a running deadline with regard to new applicants — they must apply for this year’s lottery by November 22, as Horowitz points out.
But I still believe that making policy on the heels of horror is a problem. That’s because Trump’s recommendations about the diversity visa lottery were good policy a year ago, a day ago, and will be good policy three weeks from now. By tying that policy to a terror attack, we end up in a nasty situation where advocates for a policy accuse their opponents of bad faith and vice versa. Why not wait a week and then propose the policy? After all, there are serious considerations, here, too: the diversity lottery program may stink (it does), but it stinks not because a terrorist who may well have been radicalized here got into the country, but because we’re importing tens of thousands of people who may not integrate well with American society overall. Suggesting that a program that has imported over a million people stinks only because one of those people did something horrible is a recipe for bad policymaking more broadly. It’s the same logic as “if we only save one life.” And that logic undercuts both good policy and decent politics.