At a campaign rally in Cincinnati, Ohio, Thursday night, President Donald Trump painted a wildly inaccurate picture to his supporters of how the diversity visa lottery program works.
The diversity visa lottery program awards roughly 50,000 green cards each year to citizens from various underrepresented countries to legally live and work in the United States. In turn, lottery recipients “diversify” the U.S. population: in order to qualify for the lottery, an individual must meet a number of merit-based factors, including a certain level of education or comparable work experience.
In Trump’s mind, however, the diversity visa lottery functions as some kind of Powerball for criminals.
“And you pick people out of the lottery,” Trump said Thursday night, gesturing as if he were picking names out of a hat. “Well let’s see, this one is a murderer, this one robbed four banks, this one I better not say, this one another murderer, ladies and gentlemen, another murderer.”
He added, “Do you think [countries] are going to put their great citizens [….] into the lottery? Look at the people they put into these lotteries.”
Because the diversity visa lottery is self-selecting, it is not up to individual countries — as Trump appears to believe — to decide which of its citizens can be considered for a green card. In addition to the education requirements, all recipients of the visa undergo background checks, health examinations, security screenings, and interviews by consular officers before their arrival in the United States.
Trump has frequently railed against the diversity visa lottery program, even threatening to eliminate the program altogether in 2017, after a lottery recipient from Uzbekistan carried out an extremist attack in New York City, killing eight people.
“The terrorist came into our country through what is called the ‘Diversity Visa Lottery Program,’ a Chuck Schumer beauty. I want merit based,” Trump tweeted in November 2017. “We are fighting hard for Merit Based immigration, no more Democrat Lottery Systems. We must get MUCH tougher (and smarter).”
But the irony is the diversity visa lottery is already “merit-based.” And its education and work requirements are exactly what Trump says he wants more of in the U.S. immigration system.
Getting a green card through the diversity visa lottery program is no walk in the park.
“Lottery is a misnomer. This phrase came into effect because there is no backlog,” Anu Joshi, immigration policy director for the New York Immigration Coalition, told ThinkProgress. “It’s not really a lottery at all. It’s a very intensive program; very few people actually make it through.”
The majority of applicants — 10 million usually apply — are eliminated because their home countries have used up the slots allotted them over a span of five years, meaning people from countries India, China, and Mexico are usually excluded. Eastern European and African nations are among those most likely to benefit from the program, along with a number of smaller Asian countries. This year, Egypt and Russia topped the list of lottery recipients.