Trump gets fresh gunpowder against US visas after NYC subway blast

Chief of the United States visa monitoring authority gave the clearest indication yet of the coming sledgehammer blow to the current US immigration system barely 24 hours after the arrest of a Bangladeshi immigrant accused of making a homemade pipe bomb and setting it off in the New York subway system. The accused  got into the country on an F4 family based visa.

Trump's firing on all cylinders against 'outsiders' / Screenshot

Trump's firing on all cylinders against 'outsiders'. In this pic, USCIS chief Cissna / YouTube Screenshot

The blast at New York’s most crowded bus terminal and the subsequent arrest of bombing suspect 27-year-old Akayed Ullah has set off US President Donald Trump on the same drumbeat he ran on for the White House race this time last year - tighter border control and extreme vetting.

Link: Our comprehensive coverage of visas on Planet Trump

Taking Trump’s cue to fix the “broken” immigration system, three powerful arms of the government - the Justice Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the USCIS have launched their own offensive - all tying into the same anthem of ending chain migration with little or no eligibility criteria.

Francis Cissna, Director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, spoke in great detail Tuesday afternoon on the two broad categories of immigration - family and employment based and the gaping policy loopholes in family-based chain migration. Although the Trump administration’s guns are trained squarely against chain migration, temporary employment based visas are very much in the firing line. Cissna confirmed that in as many words today.

Just this August, Trump’s protege Tom Cotton and U.S. Sen. David Perdue, of Georgia, both Republicans proposed the RAISE Act, which would limit the number of permanent-resident visas and do away with the ability of citizens to bring over relatives other than spouses and minor children.

Since that time, Tuesday’s briefing is the most comprehensive one on the nature of the coming cleansing in the immigration system.

Although Cissna did not speak in specific terms about the H1B visa which is central to Indian migration into the US since the 1990s, the message was clear both for H1B visas and the huge question mark hanging over employment authorisation given to holders of H4 visas since 2015.

“If you look at temporary visa categories, yes, there's a lot of things that we can do and that we're going to do, for example, to increase protections of American workers,” Cissna said in an apparent reference to how the H1B and the H4 might be squeezed by the Buy American Hire American executive order.

Cissna’s comments, received from The White House, and especially rich in detail and latest data on the comparison between family based and employment based visa numbers, are reproduced below:

Hello.  I'm here to talk to you about yesterday's incident and kind of give you some of the context and perspective in the immigration system -- how it works, or how it didn’t work, in this case -- and what are the sorts of things our administration is proposing to change it to make it better.

So, as you all know, yesterday, the suspect, Akayed Ullah, was arrested in an attempted bombing in New York City.  And there's an immigration aspect to this.  The immigration aspect is that he immigrated to this county; he was a green card holder, a lawful permanent resident.  He came to this country based on family connection to a U.S. citizen.  He was a national of Bangladesh.  The U.S. citizen in question was his uncle, and that U.S. citizen, many years ago, came to this country originally as a visa lottery winner.

So this is the general background.  I now want to try to explain what all that means, where those terms come from, and what the significance of all that is.

First, I would explain that, for those who aren’t aware, our immigration system has two principal components.  There's a family-based component through which the suspect in yesterday's attack -- alleged bombing incident -- came through.  And there's an employment-based component.

In any given year, we have about 1 million immigrants.  One million people come here to get green cards, immigrant visas.  In fiscal year '15, for example, of that 1 million, about 72 percent of our immigrants came based on a family connection, and only 6 percent -- or about 1 out of 15 -- came based on an employment or job connection, job offer.  So you can see the immigration system is heavily weighted towards family migration.

There are other categories of people that immigrate as well, besides just family and employment-based, including refugees, asylees, and, of course, the visa lottery people that I just referenced.  But those are very small compared to those two larger categories.

I want to talk now about these in particular -- the family-based, the employment-based, and then the visa lottery.  In the family-based migration category, there are multiple categories of people.  The principal category -- family-based immigrants -- are called "immediate relatives."  These are people who are the spouses or children, nuclear family members, of U.S. citizens.  In a given year, you have about half a million people in that category.  In fact, I have better numbers than that.  In fiscal year '16, in that category -- these are people who are the nuclear family members of U.S. citizens -- there were about 566,000 people that immigrated. 

An additional category in the family-based universe are what are called "preference" categories.  These are more extended family connections.  These include unmarried -- the first category -- unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens; second category -- spouses of green card holders, unmarried sons and daughters of green card holders; third category -- married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens; fourth category is brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens and their children.  That's the category that yesterday's suspect came in under.

So the suspect in yesterday's bombing came in under the most extreme, remote possible family-based connection that you could have under current U.S. immigration law -- that being the child of the sibling of a U.S. citizen.

Under the employment-based categories -- that's a much smaller number -- only 140,000 slots are allocated in a year to that category, but you're only really getting about half that number of actual workers because the spouses and children don't count towards that category.

There you have a number of categories, including categories for extraordinary ability of workers.  You have people with advanced degrees.  You have people who are skilled professionals and immigrant investors.  There's multiple categories, but a much smaller number than the family-based categories.  And again, I remind you, only 1 out of 15 of our immigrants come in under those skilled categories.

Let me turn now to the diversity visa, which is the other visa program that is relevant to yesterday's events.  The diversity visa, or visa lottery as it's called colloquially, is a program that was established back in 1990.  There were some precursor programs before that, but, basically, the program as we know it was established in 1990.  That's seen 50,000 people a year based on an immigration lottery.

The qualifications for registering for the lottery are that you have to be from a country that had low immigration in the previous five years, and the person who's applying for the lottery has to either have a high school degree or, if they have no education, at least two years of experience in a job that requires two years of training.  So the criteria are very low. 

The problems with the visa lottery are various.  First, because the criteria are so low, either you have no education at all and very little skills, or you have a minimum of education and no skills at all.  And because it's a lottery, pretty much anybody on the planet who is from a qualifying country can take advantage of this. 

In 2003, the State Department's Inspector General Office observed that this low eligibility criteria could lead to exploitation by terrorists.  They warned about this in 2003.  The GAO, in 2007, echoed that warning -- again, warning that terrorists could take advantage of the diversity visa program. 

Also, the program is racked with fraud.  In 2003, the State Department IG, 15 years ago, noted that the program was rife with pervasive fraud.  The fraud, the low eligibility standards, all these contribute to its potential exploitation by terrorists and other mala fide actors.

Bangladesh is an interesting case.  That's the country where yesterday's suspect came from.  That country was a high user of the visa lottery program.  In fact, in 2007 -- which was the peak year for that country's use of the visa lottery -- 27 percent of the immigrants from that country came through that program, through the visa lottery program.

Uzbekistan, which was the country of origin of the alleged -- the truck driver from October 31st in New York City -- in 2010, 70 percent -- 7-0 percent -- of immigrants from Uzbekistan came through the visa lottery program. 

So that program is used as a prime avenue for immigration for many countries. 

Finally, let me touch on the subject of chain migration.  When I use that word, what I'm talking about is a person who comes to this country and who, in turn, employs one of these many avenues that I just described, principally family-based, to sponsor relatives who are in the home country to come and join him or her. 

Because the categories that we have that I just described in family-based migration are so extensive, it's not just nuclear family.  You also have, as I say, adult unmarried children; brothers and sisters; nieces and nephews.  You can sponsor a person like yesterday's alleged terrorist at the extremity of that chain, and then that person, in turn, can sponsor people and so on, and so on, indefinitely.

Hundreds of thousands of people come into this country every year based on these extended-family migration categories.  And it is my view, it our administration's view, that that is not the way that we should be running our immigration system.  A system like that, that includes something like the diversity visa program, these extended-family categories are not the way anybody would have designed this immigration system if we could start from scratch today.

What we need is an immigration system that is selective.  We want to be able to select the types of people that are coming here based on criteria that ensure their success; criteria that ensure their ability to assimilate successfully in our country.  And random lotteries, extended-family connections -- that's not the way to run our immigration system.

So I appeal -- we appeal -- to the Congress as they consider these matters as we speak, and in the coming weeks, to seriously take into account these concerns that we have with the way the immigration system is structured and its vulnerabilities, as I just described, and correct that.

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Updated Date: Dec 13, 2017 07:25:41 IST

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