PolitiFact: Trump misplaces visa-lottery blame on Schumer


The roots of the diversity visa program are in a 1965 overhaul that led to large numbers of immigrants from Asia and Latin America. It moved from a country-by-country quota system to neutral country-of-origin selection criteria.

By the late 1970s and 1980s, a large group of Irish nationals had arrived on temporary visas and overstayed, remaining in the country illegally. Irish-American and Italian-American members of Congress joined forces to pass the Immigration Act of 1990, creating a system that would help distant Irish and Italian relatives of those immigrants come to the United States and live legally.

“This lottery was created for Irish and Italians by Irish and Italian Americans, but after a while the beneficiaries lost interest in it,” said Anna O. Law, Herbert Kurz Chair of Constitutional Rights at CUNY Brooklyn College. “The countries that are very enthusiastic about the program are in Africa.”

An annual random lottery system began selecting applicants in 1995 from countries that had low immigration levels in the previous five years, with a cap of 55,000 immigrant visas a year to recipients who meet education or work requirements. The cap is now 50,000, after Congress decided to allocate 5,000 of the 55,000 annual visas to people eligible for the Nicaraguan and Central American Relief Act program.

Trump wants to eliminate the diversity visa program and shift to a merit-based immigration system.

Schumer was involved in the program’s creation. But there’s more to the legislative story.

The White House pointed us to a bill introduced on March 1, 1990, that Schumer sponsored when he was in the House. Its many provisions included language on diversity visas.

That bill was eventually rolled into another one, which the Democratic-controlled House passed in 1990, by a margin of 231-192. Democrats supported it 186-65, while Republicans went 47-127. Schumer voted yes, as did four other Republicans still serving in the House: Dana Rohrabacher of California, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, Chris Smith of New Jersey and Don Young of Alaska. Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a frequent Trump ally, also voted yes.

The Senate passed a companion bill with the diversity lottery provision. Republican supporters of the bill finally passed by both houses included Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., now Senate Majority Leader; Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Orrin Hatch of Utah, John McCain of Arizona, and Richard Shelby of Alabama (who was then a Democrat). Trump’s director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, also voted for it.

On Nov. 29, 1990, President George H.W.Bush signed it, saying, “This act recognizes the fundamental importance and historic contributions of immigrants to our country.”

No matter how much responsibility you give Schumer for the visa lottery program’s existence, Trump’s tweet ignores his more recent efforts to eliminate it.

During the 2013 effort to pass a comprehensive immigration overhaul, Schumer was one of the bipartisan “gang of eight” that negotiated a bill that, among other things, would have eliminated the diversity lottery. It passed the Senate 68-32 but died when members who support low levels of immigration, predominantly Republicans, prevented action in the GOP-controlled House.

Our ruling

Schumer did introduce legislation 27 years ago that included initial language establishing the diversity visa lottery. He was far from being the only politician with a role in its passage. The bill was signed by a Republican president, and the final version of the legislation received majority Republican support in both chambers of Congress. Trump’s tweet ignores Schumer’s effort just four years ago to pass a bill that would have ended the lottery, which died due to Republican opposition in the House.

We rate the statement Mostly False.


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