US President Donald Trump on Wednesday blamed the deadly New York attack by an Uzbek immigrant on the US green card lottery program and called for visas to be awarded only on “merit.”
Trump said Sayfullo Saipov, who plowed a rented truck into cyclists and pedestrians on a New York City bike path Tuesday, killing eight, was allowed into the United States on a State Department program known as the “Diversity Lottery Programme” established in 1990.
He blamed the programme on Senator Chuck Schumer, the senior Democratic senator from New York, even though it was resoundingly supported by both parties and signed into law by a Republican president, George HW Bush.
“The terrorist came into our country through what is called the ‘Diversity Visa Lottery Programme,’ a Chuck Schumer beauty. I want merit based” immigration, Trump tweeted.
“We are fighting hard for Merit Based immigration, no more Democrat Lottery Systems. We must get MUCH tougher (and smarter),” he added.
Saipov, 29, was reported to have arrived in the United States from Uzbekistan in 2010.
Unconfirmed news reports said he entered the country on the State Department programme, which aimed to diversify the origins of people granted permanent residence — so-called green cards — in the United States.
The programme awards 50,000 residence visas annually.
Schumer quickly rebuffed Trump.
“I have always believed and continue to believe that immigration is good for America,” he said in a statement.
“President Trump, instead of politicizing and dividing America, which he always seems to do at times of national tragedy, should be focusing on the real solution — anti-terrorism funding — which he proposed cutting in his most recent budget.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said investigators have determined that Saipov since shown an interest in the Islamic State group and its terror tactics, but that there was no evidence so far that others helped him plot the attack.
Earlier, Trump announced that he had ordered the Department of Homeland Security to intensify “extreme vetting” of travellers to the United States, operations aimed at screening out potential terrorists.
“Being politically correct is fine, but not for this!” he said via Twitter.