The Trump White House struck a hardline tone Wednesday on changes to the country’s legal immigration system less than 24 hours after the deadly Islamic State-inspired truck attack in New York.
President Donald Trump added political correctness to the list of things and people Americans should blame. His top spokeswoman said it is dangerous to “randomly select people” for entry into the country via a decades-old visa lottery program.
Candidate Trump often railed against political correctness, saying it was undermining national security and other aspects of American culture. On Wednesday, he put “PC” alongside Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and other congressional Democrats as things to blame for Sayfullo Saipov, a 29-year-old Uzbekistan native, driving a rented truck into pedestrians in New York. The worst terrorist attack in that city since 9/11 left eight people dead.
Trump wants Congress to ax a visa lottery program through which Saipov obtained a permanent resident visa in 2010. It’s called the Diversity Immigrant Visa program and is designed to increase the number of immigrants into the United States from countries that have a low U.S. immigration rate. It became law as part of a 1990 immigration bill that passed the House with 264 votes and the Senate with 89; GOP president George H.W. Bush signed it into law.
Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the U.S. government must “make sure” those seeking entry and visas “want to contribute to society” rather than “harm people.”
The president started his day by blaming Schumer and other Democrats for the program despite its bipartisan roots. Later, speaking to reporters at the start of a Cabinet meeting, Trump called on lawmakers to end it.
But Sanders later told reporters the president does not “blame” Senate Minority Leader Schumer for the attack, only the suspect. Sanders said the president would welcome working with Schumer on changing vetting procedures for those seeking entry into the United States.
To that end, the president made clear he wants the lottery system terminated. Since it was part of the 1990 law, he will need Congress’ help to do so, however.
“I am today starting the process of terminating the diversity lottery program. I’m going to ask Congress to immediately initiate work to get rid of this program,” Trump said. “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.”
Harkening back to the tough rhetoric that defined his campaign, Trump described America as having gotten too soft on preventing would-be terrorists from entering the country and punishing people who carry out attacks or are caught planning to.
“We have to get much tougher. We have to get much smarter. And we have to get much less politically correct,” Trump said. “We're so politically correct that we’re afraid to do anything.”
To Trump, many Western countries that have been victims of recent ISIS and ISIS-inspired attacks suffer from the same ailment.
“And that’s not only our country — that’s other countries, too, that are having very similar problems,” he said. “We have to do what’s right to protect our citizens. We will never waver in the defense of our beloved country — ever.”
Trump also told reporters that America’s system for trying terrorism suspects is “a joke,” calling for a “punishment that’s far quicker and far greater than the punishment these animals are getting right now.
“They’ll go through court for years. And at the end ... who knows what happens,” he said, calling for “quick justice” and “strong justice” for suspects like the alleged New York attacker.
“What we have right now is a joke and it’s a laughingstock,” said Trump, yet again attacking a terrorism justice system put in place by the establishment of both parties that he so loathes. “And no wonder so much of this stuff takes place.”
Sanders said the White House has not ruled out adding Uzbekistan, the home country of the alleged New York attacker, to its travel ban.
She partially pinned the potential addition on Congress, which she said helped develop the criteria that went into building the list of included countries.