Washington, D.C. – Today in The Hill, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) makes the case in an op-ed for ending the Diversity Visa Program. Last week, Sayfullo Saipov, an immigrant from Uzbekistan who came to the United States in 2010 through the Diversity Visa Program, plowed a rental truck into people using a bicycle path near One World Trade Center on Halloween, killing eight and injuring another 11 people. Under the visa lottery, each successful applicant is chosen at random and given the status of permanent resident based on pure luck, a policy that is foolish in the age in which we live.
By Rep. Bob Goodlatte
November 6, 2017
Last week on Oct. 31, our nation witnessed yet another horrific terrorist attack on American soil. Sayfullo Saipov, an immigrant from Uzbekistan who came to the United States in 2010 through the Diversity Visa Program, plowed a rental truck into people using a bicycle path near One World Trade Center in New York City, killing eight and injuring another 11 people.
According to law enforcement officials, Saipov yelled “Allahu Akbar” after the attack, and handwritten notes pledging allegiance to ISIS were found near his truck after the attack. The criminal complaint filed against him stated that the suspect showed no remorse, felt good about what he had done, and considered hanging the ISIS flag in his hospital room. He also told authorities that he chose Halloween because there would be more civilians on the streets.
Following this deadly and sinister terrorist attack, the Diversity Visa Program, also known as the visa lottery, has once again been thrown into the spotlight and for good reason. Alarmingly, the visa lottery is ripe for abuse by terrorists. It awards legal permanent resident status to foreign nationals based purely on luck. The State Department conducts a random lottery to pick these lottery winners. Millions apply and approximately 50,000 foreign nationals are awarded green cards to enter the U.S. each year. Winners are then free to petition for their family members to come as well.
Usually, immigrant visas are issued to foreign nationals that have existing connections with family members lawfully residing in the United States or with U.S. employers. These types of relationships help ensure that immigrants entering our country have a stake in continuing America’s success and have needed skills to contribute to our nation’s economy. However, under the visa lottery program, green cards are awarded to immigrants at random without meeting such criteria.
The visa lottery, which was enacted 10 years prior to 9/11, is foolish in the age in which we live. Those in the world who wish us harm can easily engage in this statistical gamble with nothing to lose. The Office of the Inspector General at the State Department has found that it poses significant national security risks. In fact, Saipov is the fifth person who has been accused or convicted in connection with terrorism plots to have come here through the visa lottery.
In another instance, Hesham Hadayet, an Egyptian terrorist who killed two and wounded several others at Los Angeles International Airport on July 4, 2002, was a lawful permanent resident who received his green card through the program since his wife was a visa lottery winner.
Additionally, in August 2002 Pakistan national Imran Mandhai pleaded guilty to conspiring to wage jihad by plotting to destroy electrical power stations, the Israeli consulate, and other South Florida targets. He entered the United States with his parents, who had won the visa lottery, in 1998.
Similarly, in August 2002, two diversity lottery winners from Morocco – Ahmed Hannan and Karim Koubriti – were indicted as members of an alleged terrorist “sleeper” cell in Michigan. In June 2003, a jury convicted Koubriti of conspiring to provide material support or resources to terrorists, and Hannan of possessing false documents.
In addition to posing national security concerns, the Government Accountability Office and Office of the Inspector General have found the visa lottery to be plagued by many types of fraud and abuse. Not only is there widespread use of fake documents, such and birth certificates, marriage certificates, and passports, making it difficult to verify the identities of diversity visa applicants and their family members, but there are also more sophisticated fraud schemes.
For instance, many visa lottery applicants submit several applications under different names in order to increase their chances of winning. And marriage fraud is rampant in the program. “Pop-up” spouses often appear in between the time the applicant registers for the lottery and the time when the applicant is interviewed by the State Department. These “spouses” pay the applicant in order to be a part of the applicant’s green card winnings.
The United States has the most generous immigration system in the world, admitting more than 1 million legal immigrants each year. Eliminating the visa lottery does not negate our nation’s generosity but makes our immigration system smarter and safer for the age in which we live. Our immigration policy should be based primarily on our national needs, security and economics as opposed to an arbitrary system. The visa lottery is too much of a gamble for our nation to make with today’s ongoing threat of terrorism and must come to an end.
Goodlatte is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.