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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Trump says he will end green card lottery after New York attack

The US president will need Congress' approval to end the officially-named Diversity Visa Lottery programme, however. A similar effort by senators in 2013 failed because the Republican Party leadership would not allow a vote in the House of Representatives

US president Donald Trump, pictured here during a cabinet meeting at the White House on November 1, 2017, says he will scrap the so-called 'green card' lottery. Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
US president Donald Trump, pictured here during a cabinet meeting at the White House on November 1, 2017, says he will scrap the so-called 'green card' lottery. Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

US president Donald Trump said on Wednesday he would end the country's so-called "green card" immigration lottery following the terror attack in New York by a radicalised Uzbek man.

"I am starting the process of terminating the diversity lottery programme," he said. "It sounds nice, but it's not good."

"We will get rid of this lottery programme as soon as possible."

The 1990 state department programme, officially named the Diversity Visa Lottery, awards US permanent resident visas to around 50,000 applicants from around the world each year. It also opens the door for members of successful applicants' broader families to follow them, what is often called "chain migration".

Mr Trump said he wants to move to a "merit-based system" and not allow immigrants to bring their extended families.

The president said the New York attacker, Sayfullo Saipov, who ploughed a rented truck into cyclists and pedestrians on a bike path on Tuesday, had come to the country via the programme.

Mr Trump will need Congress's approval to end the lottery, however. A similar effort by senators in 2013 failed because the Republican Party leadership would not allow a vote in the House of Representatives.

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Read more:

New York attack was planned 'for weeks', say police

From celebrating to mourning: Victims of deadly attack in New York

What made NYC attacker Sayfullo Saipov kill?

Screams, gunshots ... then eight people lay dying and a new ‘Lone Wolf’ had made his cowardly mark in New York

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It was only a few hours after the attack that Mr Trump took to Twitter to float proposals for “extreme vetting” of foreigners coming to the United States and to later attack members of the Democratic Party for what he branded as soft immigration policies.

The comments contrasted sharply with the Trump administration's response to the Las Vegas mass shooting on October 1. Then, the president and the White House had focused on consoling the victims, saying it was “premature … to discuss policy [gun control] when we don’t fully know all the facts or what took place last night”.

After Tuesday's attack, however, a debate over harsher policy measures ensued almost immediately. Mr Trump tweeted about the attack at least eight times in the 24 hours immediately following, with most of the tweets focusing on new policies to counter ISIL and tightening immigration measures, or laying blame on Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer. It suggested he was appealing to his voter base, which rejects gun control but supports harsher immigration measures.

Only one addressed the victims of the attack and their families.

On policy, Mr Trump said he had “just ordered Homeland Security to step up our already Extreme Vetting Program. Being politically correct is fine, but not for this!”.

It was unclear what this stepping up would entail. Asked on Fox News on Monday for a definition of “extreme vetting”, White House chief of staff John Kelly said: “Extreme vetting is, we simply interview people and have to satisfy ourselves that the person we’re talking to is indeed the person who they claim … if we can't verify, I don't think we should let them into the country.”

Vetting procedures are already in place for visa applicants and are much harsher for refugees. The Trump administration strengthened procedures for the latter this month, requiring asylum seekers to provide 10 years' worth of records.

But it was more Mr Trump's attacks on the Democratic Party leadership that has seen him being accused of “politicising” the attack.

"The terrorist came into our country through what is called the 'Diversity Visa Lottery Program,' a Chuck Schumer beauty. I want merit based,” Mr Trump tweeted on Tuesday.

Later, it appeared the president was watching the Fox News talk show "Fox and Friends" when he quoted one of their guests railing against Mr Schumer.

"Senator Chuck Schumer helping to import Europes problems" said Col. Tony Shaffer. We will stop this craziness! @foxandfriends," he tweeted.

That immediately triggered a twitter storm, ensuing criticism from both Democrats and a Republican senator.

"I guess it's not too soon to politicize a tragedy," Mr Schumer counter-attacked in a tweet.

The Senate minority leader later posted several tweets accusing Mr Trump of cutting antiterrorism funding in his new budget.

Mr Schumer received a helping hand from Republican senator Jeff Flake who contradicted Mr Trump’s assertion that Mr Schumer supported the Diversity Visa Lottery.

"Actually, the Gang of 8, including @SenSchumer, did away with the Diversity Visa Program as part of broader reforms. I know, I was there,” tweeted Mr Flake, who gave a speech to the Senate on October 24 in which he delivered a searing rebuke of Mr Trump.

The "Gang of 8" mention refers to the bipartisan effort in 2013 to push through an immigration reform bill that would have seen the Diversity Visa Lottery scrapped. The bill, which was supported by Mr Schumer, passed the Senate but did not receive a vote in the House of Representatives.

In New York, it was a different story, however, with city leaders calling for the country to unify and come together in the wake of the attack.

"This is not the time to play politics. This is not the time to foment hate. This is not the time to divide,” New York governor Andrew Cuomo told MSNBC on Wednesday.