Schumer’s Cynical Diversity Visa Gambit

By | 2018-01-21T14:44:25+00:00 January 21st, 2018|
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Washington D.C. was practically in flames last week over President Trump’s now-infamous, though contested, remarks about desiring immigrants from certain countries over others.

Politicians fell all over themselves denouncing his comments and expressing their horror, derision, and scorn in varying levels of the dramatic. U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) went on a rhetorical bender at a committee hearing last week, yelling at Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and declaring that he cried “tears of rage” over the issue.

But lost amidst this torrent of virtue signaling was any substantive analysis of the policy discussed during that fateful Oval Office meeting.

According to reports, Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) were there to brief the president on their immigration proposal, which included a partial end to the so-called “diversity visa” program.

Specifically, Graham and Durbin proposed to eliminate the lottery, but, at the behest of the Congressional Black Caucus, reallocate those visas to primarily African countries, including Haiti. That apparently prompted a profane disagreement from the president.

The appropriateness of the comments notwithstanding, it’s worth examining what, exactly, the diversity visa program is, and why it’s playing a key role in the discussion over immigration reform and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) legislative fix.

Congress established the diversity visa program in the 1990s. The program set aside 50,000 visas annually for people from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. Initially, that meant Europe, with Europeans representing the majority of diversity visa recipients for the first 10 years of the program. Over time, immigrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia have overtaken Europeans as diversity visa  beneficiaries.

Ironically, Haiti—one of the countries in the spotlight over the president’s remarks—is currently ineligible for the program, having sent too many people to the United States over the last year to qualify.

Almost since its inception, the program has been controversial. Aside from many documented instances of fraud and abuse, the program has been associated with human trafficking and duplicate lottery registrations.

It has also been associated with terrorism. In October, an Uzbek immigrant inspired by the Islamic State plowed a rented truck into a New York City bike path, killing eight and injuring 11. Sayfullo Saipov had arrived in the United States in 2010 as part of the diversity visa  lottery. (No word whether Booker cried tears of rage after this particular atrocity.)

Likewise, Hesham Mohamed Ali Hadayet, who shot and killed two people at Los Angeles International Airport in 2002, entered the country through his wife, a diversity visa lottery recipient. Visa lottery winners from Pakistan and Morocco have been jailed for plotting to commit terrorist acts.

As early as 2004, the State Department Inspector General was highlighting how the diversity visa program posed “significant threats to national security.”

So why won’t Democrats agree to end it?

It’s an odd question, considering that leading Democrats used to support terminating the program. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) was key to the program’s creation in the 1990s, but, years later, was the lead sponsor of the bill that contained a provision to end it.

What’s changed? The politics, certainly. Schumer refuses to support ending the diversity visa  program when it would be painted as a concession to President Trump.

But more than that, in the last decade, Democrats have been captured by the radical left-wing activists of their party, who now demand nothing less than full amnesty for illegal immigrants.

Over the past week and a half, the country has witnessed just how far Democrats are willing to go to protect unlawful immigrants over United States citizens.

They’ve blown up the rhetoric of an off-the-record White House meeting to distract from a substantive discussion of the issues at hand. And as of Friday night, they’ve shut down the government, threatening the pay of  U.S. armed service members, putting federal employees on furlough, and grinding to a halt some of the basic machinery of government.

All of this over their demand that amnesty be added to the current funding bill.

Unlike President Obama, who refused to negotiate with Republicans in 2013, President Trump has made outreach to Democrats a priority—even inviting Schumer to the White House for discussion over cheeseburgers.

Trump, with the support of congressional Republicans, is ready to do a deal on DACA in exchange for stronger border enforcement measures, including interior enforcement and an end to chain migration.

Still, Democrats demand amnesty, or nothing.

It’s a cynical gamble: Choosing to take the government over the cliff—not on behalf of the people who elected you, but on behalf of those you hope that, if granted amnesty, one day will.

About the Author:

Rachel Bovard
Rachel Bovard is senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute. Beginning in 2006, she served in both the House and Senate in various roles including as legislative director for Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and policy director for the Senate Steering Committee under the successive chairmanships of Senator Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) and Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), where she advised Committee members on strategy related to floor procedure and policy matters. In the House, she worked as senior legislative assistant to Congressman Donald Manzullo (R-Il.), and Congressman Ted Poe (R-Texas). She is the former director of policy services for the Heritage Foundation. Follow her on Twitter at @RachelBovard.