Calling Out President Trump’s Hoax: The Green Card Lottery and Family Fourth Preference Have No Connection To Terrorism

By Cyrus D. Mehta & Sophia Genovese

Despite the President’s most recent comments, individuals that immigrate to the United States via the Diversity Visa program and family-based petitions are not chosen out of a bin and are certainly not the “worst of the worst.” To the contrary, individuals who come to the United States through these mechanisms undergo rigorous screenings and can face several years, sometimes decades, of processing and waiting.

Trump’s most recent anti-immigration comments were sparked by the Halloween attack in New York City resulting in the tragic death of eight individuals, as well as the failed bomb attack in Times Square last week. The alleged Halloween attacker, Sayfullo Saipov, entered through the Diversity Visa program in 2010. Ceasing this political opportunity to further propel his anti-immigrant rhetoric, Trump declared that the Diversity Visa program brings in “the worst of the worst” and called on Congress to end the program. The individual who attempted to bomb the New York City subway at Times Square, Akayed Ullah, had entered through a fourth preference family-based petition. He was the child of the beneficiary of an approved I-130 petition filed by his parent’s US citizen sibling. Trump again jumped on the opportunity to criticize another lawful method of immigration and declared that such “extended-family chain migration” is “incompatible with national security.”

Given the backlogs in family-based preference categories and the rigorous screenings in both family-based petitions and the Diversity Visa program, it is difficult to understand how the President believes they are easily manipulated processes for dangerous individuals to enter the United States. Logically speaking, if someone truly wanted to exert harm on Americans, there are several other ways to do so without having to go through the hassle of the diversity visa program or family-based petitions.

The modern-day Diversity Visa program was created by Congress through passage of the Immigration Act of 1990 and officially went into effect October 1, 1994. The purpose of the program is to “further enhance and promote diversity” by allowing individuals from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States the opportunity to obtain a green card. There have been many examples of immigrants who have succeeded and benefitted America through this program. In order to apply for the program, an individual must be from a low-sending country and have a high-school education or its equivalent. For FY 2019, individuals from every country but Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China (mainland), Colombia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines, South Kora, the United Kingdom, and Vietnam are eligible to apply. If applicants fail to submit their registration within the rigid timelines, fail to meet the requirements explained above (i.e. do not possess a high-school education or its equivalent), or generally fail to follow the instructions in the application carefully, they will immediately be disqualified from consideration. Even being one of the nearly 100,000 individuals initially selected in the lottery is not a guarantee for admission, especially if the applicant has triggered one of the many grounds of inadmissibility in the Immigration and Nationality Act. Instead, lottery winners undergo rigorous background checks and interviews, all of which must be completed within a strict timeframe.

There was a time in our history where immigrants came to the country without being subjected to rigorous selection criteria, and only with a dream of starting a new life and doing well through sheer determination and hard work. This was America’s secret sauce – its ability to attract and assimilate people regardless of their status in society and only with a burning desire to succeed. The Diversity Visa program is redolent of America’s past, which still gives anyone who can qualify subject to rigorous screening – whether from Scandinavia or sub-Saharan Africa – a chance to dream, work hard and succeed in America.

Similarly, individuals seeking to immigrate through family-based petitions face crippling backlogs, in addition to the comprehensive security screenings prior to entering the United States. For many of these families, the process of immigrating to the United States can take upwards of several years or even decades. For example, if a US citizen originally from Mexico filed an I-130 on behalf of their married son or daughter, their child can expect to wait at least another 21 years, if not longer, before they can apply for their immigrant visas. And even once their priority date becomes current, there is no guarantee that a consular officer will find them admissible for entry into the United States. It has now become fashionable, even by the likes of USCIS Director Francis Cessna, to criticize so called chain migration as not being desirable and providing a conduit for immigrants to come to the United States to do harm. But this is just subterfuge by immigration restrictionists to curtail family-based immigration in exchange for the proposed RAISE Act. Although the RAISE Act purportedly promotes merit based immigration through a points system, it will keep out most, even many highly skilled individuals, and it is thus no wonder that mostly xenophobes have welcomed it so far.

Chain migration is not a legal term, it is a political term, which is conveniently bandied around by those who oppose immigration, including Trump appointed officials like the USCIS Director who should be objectively administering the law rather than infecting it with Trump’s and his own personal biases. For any rational immigration system to work, minor children of the sponsored person, whether through employment or family-based immigration, along with the spouse, must also be let in. If only the principal beneficiary is admitted on a permanent basis, no one will ever want to immigrate to the United States. While this may be the dream of xenophobes, to deny spouses and children of the sponsored immigrant to get green cards would be cruel and create an unworkable system. The honest xenophobic politician or government official should just advocate shutting down immigration altogether rather than hypocritically espouse it, but only object to chain migration. Objecting to chain migration means that you are advocating a total shut down of immigration. Moreover, every foreign national who has been admitted into the United States as a permanent resident can ultimately naturalize provided they meet the eligibility criteria. A citizen, whether naturalized or born in the United States, should be able to sponsor family members. If there was a sub-class of citizens who could not under law sponsor relatives out of fear that it would foster chain migration, there would be two tiers of citizens in America. This would go against the values of this country that treats all its citizens equally and gives them equal opportunities in all spheres of life. Worse still, it would Balkanize America. The second-class citizens would not feel integrated and assimilated into the fabric of the country. America has succeeded brilliantly and has become great because all citizens are considered Americans no matter who their parents are or where they came from.

An individual with a vendetta against the United States and seeking to exert harm on Americans is not going to go through the pain of such a process. Putting logic aside, as this Administration has done from the start, Trump has nevertheless deemed these methods of lawful entry to be incompatible with national security and avenues through which terrorists are able to sneak in. Immigration, through the chain migration bogeyman, has unfortunately become a focal point of this Administration’s racist and xenophobic rhetoric. They have and will continue to cling on to any and all violent acts committed by immigrants and use it as justification to severely limit immigration to the United States, despite the fact that immigrants are less likely to commit violent crimes than native born Americans.

Ascribing an entire population for the acts of an isolated few, who likely became radicalized in the United States long after their initial admission as immigrants, is ludicrous. Even a native born US citizen can become radicalized. Indeed, we do not see outrage against white American men every time a native-born white male shoots up a school, church, movie theater, concert, or literally any other venue imaginable. Nor have we seen substantive gun reform in an era of alarmingly high rates of deadly shootings. But yet, on the rare occasion that an immigrant does commit a crime, suddenly all immigrants have to answer for it and any avenue through which the violent individual entered the United States is criticized.   While there is clearly a logical nexus between a gun and a person’s evil intent, it is hard to find such a similar nexus with a person’s propensity to do harm and congressionally mandated visa programs. This is another one of Trump’s many hoaxes. Recall the one when he claimed that he would have won the popular vote against Clinton had 3 million illegal voters not voted in her favor.

Simply closing the door to all immigrants because a few individuals committed crimes will do nothing but hurt America in the long run. We have provided exhaustive evidence throughout our blogs describing the various ways in which immigrants have benefited the United States. Immigrants with all sorts of backgrounds contribute to the United States, and it is fallacious to think that only those with limited skills contemplated under the RAISE Act will. It is unclear why we have to continue justifying immigration in the face of such clear evidence. The solution will ultimately lie at the ballot box. Trump repeatedly criticized Ralph Northam in Virginia and Doug Jones in Alabama for being weak on the border and not supporting his wall. Yet, both defeated the candidates that Trump repeatedly promoted on Twitter as being tough on illegal immigration and supporting the wall. Scapegoating immigrants for electoral advantage may have succeeded once for Trump, but might not every time. The tide will turn as people realize that America’s greatness is being diminished if it no longer has access to its secret sauce.

RAISE Act Will Hurt Immigrants, Americans and America

Last week, President Trump lent full throated support towards the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act (RAISE Act), which will dramatically alter the immigration system in the United States the way we know it. Although this bill, proposed by Republican Senators Cotton and Purdue has little chance of moving through Congress, it has drawn significant attention as it intends to redefine America’s immigration experience over the last two centuries.

The RAISE Act deemphasizes immigration through the family, and instead creates a points system based on skills. A successful applicant must get at least 30 points.  The bill insists on English language proficiency, and allocates 0 to 12 points based on test scores. Those with US professional degrees or a doctorate in a STEM field will get the maximum of 13 points for education. By contrast, a high school diploma gets 1 point, a foreign bachelor’s degree gets 5 points, a US bachelor’s degree gets 6 points, a foreign master’s degree in a STEM field will get 7 points, a US master’s degree in a STEM field will get 8 points and a foreign professional degree or doctorate in a STEM field will get 10 points.

The younger one is the more points he or she will get, and those within the 26-30 years age range will get the maximum of 10 points. 25 big points are given for extraordinary achievement, but you must have won a Nobel prize or gained comparable recognition in a field of scientific or social scientific study. There are no comparable points for extraordinary achievement in the arts or business fields. For sportspeople, you will get 15 points if you won an Olympic medal or placed first in an international sporting event in which the best athletes in an Olympic sport were represented. Those with job offers, based on how much the offered wage will be over the median salary in the state where the job is located, will also get points ranging from 5 to 13. Investment in a new commercial enterprise at $1,350,000 will fetch 6 points; and an investment of $1, 800,000 will fetch 12 points.

The bill eliminates the diversity lottery program, or green card lottery, which awards 50,000 visas annually through a lottery from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. It caps the number of refugees granted permanent visas to the United States at 50,000 per year. Most devastatingly, the RAISE Act eliminates all the family preferences, and only maintains the preferences for spouses and minor children of permanent residents. Parents of US citizens will no longer be treated as immediate relatives, but can come on renewable temporary visas. The definition of a minor child is changed from 21 to 18. The worldwide family quota is cut from 480,000 to 88,000 minus the number of people paroled into the United States who have not departed within 365 days and have not received a green card within 2 years of getting parole status. Pending family based petitions are voided except for those that are scheduled to get green cards within one year and entry into the United States must happen within one year of the bill’s enactment.

Most pro-immigration reform advocates have not supported this bill, except for some notable  exceptions like Vivek Wadhwa who wrote Why As An Immigrant, I am Not Outraged By Trump’s Immigration Proposal. On the other hand, restrictionist immigration organizations such as FAIR and Numbers USA have readily embraced the bill. The reason for their ready embrace is that the RAISE Act drastically cuts immigration levels, and the points system will prove to be unworkable.  Steven Miller, a senior White House aide and one of the architects of RAISE Act and the travel ban, famously got into a heated exchange with CNN’s Jim Acosta. Acosta asked Miller if the bill would violate the spirit of the poem New Colossus, inscribed at the base the Statue of Liberty, which includes the famous line: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Miller retorted that the statue is “a symbol of American liberty lighting the world” and the “the poem that you were referring to was added later and was not part of the original Statue of Liberty”, and then went on to combatively quiz Acosta on what level of immigration would violate his “Statue of Liberty law of the land”.  The RAISE Act also appears to be a xenophobe’s delight as its main aim is to restrict immigration levels. Mr. Wadhwa, who is not a xenophobe and is pro-immigrant, approaches his embrace of the bill differently by arguing that the US immigration system needs to attract skilled talent on green cards, rather than temporary H-1B visas, so that they can start the next generation of great companies in the United States rather than depart the United States under our current imperfect system and start companies in competitor nations like China.

Wadhwa certainly has a point. We need to reform our immigration system to keep skilled talent, but not at the expense of decimating everything else, including the values represented by the Statute of Liberty. Most economists credibly argue that more immigrants create more jobs, and that restricting immigrants will not necessarily create more jobs for American workers. The RAISE Act keeps intact the annual 140,000 limit for employment-based immigrants that was set in the Immigration Act of 1990, in addition to drastically restricting all other visa categories. Although per country limits are abolished, derivative family members are counted as part of the 140,000 limit which will eat into the pie.  It provides no pathway to permanent residence for lower skilled but essential workers who support the American economy. Despite conflicts of interest, even President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago filed labor applications with the Department of Labor for 15 housekeepers, 20 cooks and 35 servers. Trump’s golf course in Jupiter, FL filed labor applications for 6 cooks. These are for temporary H-2B visas with no green cards at the end of their temporary stay.

Worse still, RAISE Act is cruel to the hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries of approved I-140 petitions from India and China who are caught in the crushing employment-based second and third preference employment backlogs. The bill does not grandfather them, implying that they will need to re-apply under the new points system after waiting for over a decade. Since they have gotten older by 10 or more years, they will lose out on maximum points for age. If their approved I-140 immigrant visa petitions are based on non-STEM degrees, even if they have PhDs, they will not get the same points for education as those with master’s degrees in STEM fields. Even people caught in the China EB-5 backlog will unduly suffer. When they reapply, they will not get any points on the $500,000 investments they have already made as the investment threshold in the RAISE Act that will fetch points have been substantially increased, and they will also likely lose out on English skills.  One can also imagine the backlogs that will be created when hundreds of thousands of in the existing employment-based preferences apply under the points system of the RAISE Act. People will be re-applying over and over again.  The RAISE Act points system, which seems to be a bastardized version of the Canadian and Australian point systems, could lead to other absurd results. If you are 46-50, have English scores in the 6th or 7th decile, have a foreign bachelor’s degree, and have a lucrative job offer, you are flatly disqualified from coming under this system.  Even if you’re age 41-45, and so get 4 points for age rather than 2, you would have only 28 points total and be completely ineligible.  No wonder that FAIR and Numbers USA love the RAISE Act. Mr. Wadhwa ought to rethink his position.

Immigrants with all sorts of backgrounds contribute to the United States, and it is fallacious to think that only those with STEM degree will. If a famous restaurant specializing in North Indian cuisine cannot hire a good tandoori chef on a permanent basis, then the restaurant will not be able to prosper and hire additional restaurant managers, catering supervisors and bartenders from among the US workforce. America, therefore, needs both STEM graduates and Tandoor chefs! Moreover, a nation needs both social justice and good economics; indeed, social justice is the best economics. Therefore, cutting refugee admissions is not a good idea.  A good example of the synergy between social justice and economics is Sergey Brin, who is the co-founder of Google. He came to the United States with his parents at the age of six because they faced anti-Semitism in their native Russia. Although Brin graduated from Stanford in computer science, he did not come to the US on an H-1B visa or would have benefitted under a hypothetical RAISE Act points system.  His parents were able to come into the United States based on an immigration program that was designed to protect foreign nationals from intolerance in their native countries. Still, Brin after coming to the US as a youngster was able to go on to found Google, considered one of America’s best and most innovative companies today. The insistence on learning English before one arrives is also not necessary. Indeed, culture through dance, food and music is best preserved through the language of the country where it emanates, and America will be that much more enriched if it embraces the authentic cultures of immigrants who in good time will learn English – surely, their descendants will speak English.

We should have immigration reform that admits more immigrants rather than less, as David Bier has cogently argued in a recent NY Times Op-Ed. A points system is fine if it compliments other existing immigrant visa categories. A good example was S. 744 that was passed by the Senate in 2013 in a bipartisan manner that comprehensively reformed the immigration system by expanding pathways to permanent residence, and also included a merits system. The RAISE Act does not do this and  is a terrible idea, and furthers Trump’s America First agenda, which like his proposed wall on the Mexico-US border, is based on dubious economics and has not yet proven to have any merit.  While the RAISE Act bans low skilled workers, it may also attract PhDs who may drive Ubers in America. This has been the experience in Canada under the points system, where highly qualified people have immigrated without being matched with jobs. Unlike Mr. Wadhwa,  I am justifiably outraged as an immigrant by Trump’s immigration proposal.