At least five individuals granted residence in the U.S. through the State Department's Diversity Visa Program have been tied to terrorism, the White House revealed Tuesday, noting that "hundreds of other foreign nationals" who have entered through the program are currently being investigated for potential links to terrorism.
The decades-old program, which awards green cards to 50,000 prospective immigrants each year, fell under intense scrutiny earlier this month when law enforcement officials confirmed that Sayfullo Saipov, the Uzbek national who is suspected of killing eight individuals during an Oct. 31 terror attack in New York City, entered the country on a permanent residence visa he won through the lottery.
"Just a few days prior to Saipov's attack in New York City, another Uzbek national and Visa Lottery winner, Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev, was sentenced to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State terrorists," White House officials said Tuesday.
President Trump has blasted the longstanding lottery system, urging congressional Republicans and Democrats to strike a legislative deal that replaces it by implementing a merit-based immigration system. Trump dubbed the lottery program "a Chuck Schumer beauty," following the terror attack in Manhattan.
Schumer sponsored a House bill in the 1990s that included language on diversity visas but ultimately became part of a different piece of legislation that was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush.
According to the White House, at least four other lottery winners have been convicted or suspected of engaging in terrorist activities since 1997. In 2002, an Egyptian national, who had obtained permanent residence status when his wife won the visa lottery, opened fire on two ticket agents at the Los Angeles International Airport. That same year another lottery winner from Pakistan pled guilty to conspiring to bomb a National Guard Armory in Miami.
The White House identified two other beneficiaries of the lottery program, one of whom was convicted of terrorism related activities and another who was deported after being identified as a leader in the Hamas terror group.
"Since its inception, the Visa Lottery program has been highly susceptible to fraud and malfeasance because it cannot ensure applicant identities or qualifications," the White House said. "Randomly selecting foreign nationals from around the globe to resettle within the United States is inherently dangerous and incompatible with a security-based approach to immigration."