Trump demands Congress terminate diversity immigration lottery

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump, during a White House Cabinet meeting Wednesday, said he wants to terminate the Diversity Visa Lottery, a program that distributes around 50,000 visas to countries where there is a low rate of immigration to the U.S.

“I am, today, starting the process of terminating the diversity lottery program,” Trump said, seated next to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

“I am going to ask Congress to immediately initiate work to get rid of this program, diversity lottery, diversity lottery. Sounds nice, it is not nice, it is not good. It hasn’t been good and we have been against it.

“We’re going to quickly as possible get rid of chain migration and move to a merit-based system.”

Trump added that based on preliminary information, the attacker in New York “was the point of contact, the primary point of contact for, and this is preliminarily, 23 people, that came in or potentially came in with him and that is not acceptable.”

The comments follow Trump’s tweets on Wednesday morning that blamed Sen. Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, for the program.

“The terrorist came into our country through what is called the ‘Diversity Visa Lottery Program,’ a Chuck Schumer beauty,” Trump tweeted. “I want merit based.”

Schumer was a key shaper of the 1990 legislation that created the program, but also played a lead part in the 2013 Gang of Eight bill that that passed the Senate on a bipartisan basis and included removing the diversity lottery program.

The bill would have moved those visas elsewhere in the system and introduced a merit system that took into account multiple factors like family and work skills.

The diversity visa has been a point of contention for years.

The 50,000 visas, distributed by random selection among countries where there is a low rate of immigration to the U.S., were originally designed to diversify the pool of immigrants to the U.S.

The visas offer immigrants green cards, permanent legal residence and a path to citizenship.

Republican Sens. Tom Cotton and David Perdue have introduced a bill, endorsed by Trump, that would eliminate the diversity lottery and certain categories of family-based green cards, and then would transform the remaining employment-based visas into a point system that favors heavily highly skilled, highly educated, English-speaking immigrants.

But while there is consensus around needing to reform the process, limited support exists even within the GOP for Cotton and Perdue’s bill.

Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who has been an ardent critic of Trump, noted in a tweet Wednesday that the Gang of Eight bill, had it been signed into law, would have done away with the diversity visa program.

The Cotton-Perdue bill would roughly halve the number of green cards overall per year, a point of contention for many Democrats and Republicans alike, and wouldn’t easily allow for low skilled immigrants to come to the U.S. permanently, another sticking point for many.