We are all fully aware of the appalling terrorist attack that took place in New York City on Tuesday. Eight people were killed, including five classmates from Argentina who were in the city for a 30th anniversary school reunion. Eleven other people were injured, including Martin Marro of Newton, Massachusetts. Marro was also there for the reunion, having been a classmate of the five Argentinians who were lost. Martin Marro, like millions of Americans including the president’s mother, is an immigrant.
Donald Trump encompassed the horror of the event and nearly broke both legs getting to his phone so he could blame the attack on Chuck Schumer and legal immigration — via Twitter, of course. “The terrorist came into our country through what is called the ‘Diversity Visa Lottery Program,'” he wrote, “a Chuck Schumer beauty. I want merit based.” All this while there was still blood on the bike path in Manhattan.
The function and history of the Diversity Visa Lottery Program is just complicated enough to make it an easy target for shameless grandstanders like the president. No, Chuck Schumer did not invent it. The program is the product of a bipartisan effort in the late 1980s to inspire more immigration from Western Europe, and was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush.
There is nothing special or different about the vetting process for the Diversity Lottery.
Over the years, as economies improved in Western Europe, the bulk of immigrants applying for the Diversity Lottery shifted to countries like Nigeria, Nepal and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. All that is required to enter the lottery is the equivalent of a high school diploma or work experience in a skilled profession. Most people in the world, for a variety of reasons, have little chance of successfully immigrating to the US. The Diversity Lottery is often their best and only opportunity. Some 9 million people from 200 different nations applied in 2015, but only 50,000 a year are selected.
All are vetted the same way any potential immigrant from any other program is vetted. There is nothing special or different about the vetting process for the Diversity Lottery. The Manhattan attacker, an immigrant from Uzbekistan, was vetted and admitted under this program. By all reports, he became radicalized only after arriving in the US. Unless a homegrown terrorist walks onto a stage and announces their intentions, there is no vetting process presently on the planet capable of sniffing them out before they act.
Tuesday’s Twitter comments were only the beginning. Trump made some remarks on Wednesday before his cabinet meeting on the matter of immigration, and they amounted to the same verbal demolition derby we have all come to expect and dread:
“I am today starting the process of terminating the diversary lottery program. I’m going to ask Congress to immediately initiate work to get rid of this program. Diversary and diversity lottery. Diversity lottery. Sounds nice. It’s not nice. It’s not good. It hasn’t been good. We’ve been against it. So we want to immediately work with Congress on the Diversity Lottery Program, on terminating it, getting rid of it.”
Let us pause a moment before getting to the meat of the matter to consider “Diversary.” Twice. This was printed and distributed by the White House on the official letterhead of the press secretary. He finally got it right before raking it with his verbal machine gun — “Sounds nice. It’s not nice. It’s not good. It hasn’t been good. We’ve been against it.” But it is worthy of note because something like this happens every single day.
Like all of us, every president endures the occasional wrestling match with the language. Obama had his “57 states” gaffe, and George W. Bush made so many linguistic blunders that people in Texas started naming their children “Nukular” because they thought it was a word. This, though … along with the king of China thing, the president of the Virgin Islands thing, calling all Germans “evil, very evil,” very publicly failing to understand the concept of the national debt and so many more moments that would be piled around us in vast snowdrifts if groans could be granted substance … this speaks to a larger and more disturbing phenomenon.
Within those four examples live relations with our greatest international adversary and trade partner, the aftermath of the hurricanes, international relations with Europe and fundamental monetary policy. Every topic he touches with his tongue curdles like old milk. The man is not ignorant. He simply, brazenly, aggressively does not care to know what he is talking about when he opens his gob or pounces on his phone.
Immigration — like China, the hurricanes, trade and finance — is an incredibly serious issue that directly impacts the lives of millions and plays a massively important role in our national economy. It is part of who we are as a country, as the big green lady in the water off Manhattan will attest to. The white nationalists who infest Trump’s administration and brain trust like so many goose-stepping fleas understand immigration down to the last detail. They despise it and want to end it. Trump is racist enough to let them write the copy, details take the hindmost, and if he drops yet another commentary cowpie in the pasture, so much the better: Another distraction for the corporate “news” people to follow.
The pre-cabinet aria continued:
“We want a merit-based program where people come into our country based on merit. And we want to get rid of chain migration. This man that came in — or whatever you want to call him — brought in, with him, other people … So we want to get rid of chain migration, and we’ve wanted to do that for a long time. And I’ve been wanting to do it for a long time. And we’ll be asking Congress to start working on it immediately. There are bills already about ending chain migration and we have a lot of good bills in there. We’re being stopped by Democrats because they’re obstructionists.”
Fun fact: Without “chain migration,” Donald Trump would not exist. If he did exist, he would be a Glasgow farmer stiffing the shepherds on grazing fees. In 1929, a 17-year-old woman named Mary Anne MacLeod boarded the SS Transylvania for passage from Scotland to the United States, where she joined her two sisters. In the fullness of time she had a son named Donald who would one day become president. Farther up Trump’s family tree sits his paternal grandfather, a man named Friedrich Trump, who immigrated to the US with his family from Germany in 1885.
Back then, chain migration focused on bringing over people from the same villages and communities in order to foster continuity within new immigrant enclaves in the US. The process has evolved to one where “chains” of family members are allowed to immigrate in order to foster that same continuity. The Diversity Visa Lottery Program is one iteration of a process that now spans three centuries. It is how the bulk of immigration to the US takes place.
Trump and his fascist white-power cadre seek to obliterate this fundamental aspect of the United States, and the president is more than willing to use a gruesome terror attack to grease the skids. The fact that he doesn’t know what he is talking about, and that his own existence is owed to the very programs he seeks to destroy, only adds yet another layer of embarrassing unreality to the spectacle that is his administration.
We cannot and must not allow Trump and his friends to fumble-mouth their way to a gross reimagining of an immigrant-free nation. Targeting immigrants as a political tactic is as old as the gangs of New York. It has worked in the past all too often. Not again. Never again.