In the aftermath of the Oct. 31 New York terrorist attack in which an Uzbek man plowed a rental truck into a pedestrian walkway and bike path, President Donald Trump railed against Democratic Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York for his role in creating the 1990 Diversity Visa Lottery that allowed the attacker entrance into the U.S. Schumer and other congressional leaders are pushing back, saying Schumer voted to end the program in 2013.
The U.S. randomly distributes 50,000 diversity visas each year to countries with low immigration rates. The visas were designed to do exactly what their name implies -- diversify the pool of U.S. immigration applicants. According to CNN, diversity visas enable recipients to obtain green cards, permanent legal residence and are an entry point to citizenship status.
The visas were a point of contention in Congress. In 2013, the Gang of Eight -- a bipartisan group comprised of Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Jeff Flake of Arizona, John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Democratic Sens. Dick Durban of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Schumer -- introduced an immigration reform bill that would have eliminated the diversity visa program and switched to a merit-based system. The bill passed in the Senate but failed in the House, The Washington Post reports.
Trump did not acknowledge Schumer's involvement in the Gang of Eight bill in his response to the attack.
"The terrorist came into our country through what is called the 'Diversity Visa Lottery Program,' a Chuck Schumer beauty," Trump tweeted early on Nov. 1. "I want merit based."
The tweet prompted conservative pundits, such as Sebastian Gorka, Mark Levit and Breitbart News, to link Schumer to the terrorist attack. Later that morning, Trump announced his plans to terminate diversity visas in a White House Cabinet meeting.
"I am, today, starting the process of terminating the diversity lottery program," Trump said while sitting next to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, according to CNN. "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."
Schumer later issued a statement in response to Trump:
"I have always believed and continue to believe that immigration is good for America," Schumer wrote. "President Trump, instead of politicizing and dividing America, which he always seems to do at times of national tragedy, should be focusing on the real solution -- anti-terrorism funding -- which he proposed cutting in his most recent budget. I’m calling on the President to immediately rescind his proposed cuts to this vital anti-terrorism funding."
The Trump administration proposed a budget in July that would increase funding for the Department of Homeland Security by 7 percent, at the cost of cutting funding related to reducing violent extremism, responding to terror attacks and securing airports, The Washington Post reports.
Schumer also responded to Trump on Twitter: "I guess it's not too soon to politicize a tragedy."
Flake, who collaborated with Schumer on the Group of Eight bill and is an outspoken opponent of Trump, defended the Democratic Senate leader.
"Actually, the Gang of 8, including [Senator Schumer], did away with the Diversity Visa Program as part of broader reforms. I know, I was there," he said, later adding, "In fact, had the Senate Gang of 8 bill passed the House, it would have ended the Visa Lottery Program AND increased merit based visas."
Sources: The Washington Post (2), CNN, Donald Trump/Twitter, Chuck Schumer/Twitter, Jeff Flake/Twitter (2) / Featured Image: Jeff McEvoy/U.S. Senate Photographic Studio / Embedded Images: Gage Skidmore/Flickr, Senate Democrats/Flickr