Trump calls for 'tougher' immigration response after NYC attack

Trump calls for 'tougher' immigration response after NYC attack
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President Trump on Wednesday seized on the deadly truck attack in New York City to renew his calls for a crackdown on immigration and tighter security measures.

Trump said the alleged driver in Tuesday’s attack entered the country through the diversity visa lottery and demanded that Congress act “immediately” to terminate the program, which applies to people from countries with low levels of immigration to the U.S. 

“Diversity lottery. Sounds nice. It's not nice. It's not good. It hasn't been good. We've been against it,” he said during a Cabinet meeting. 

The suspect, Sayfullo Saipov, is an Uzbek national who used the lottery system to enter the U.S. in 2010, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). 

“We have to get much tougher. We have to get much smarter. And we have to get much less politically correct,” the president said. 

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The comments followed Trump’s Tuesday night tweet that he had ordered DHS to “step up our already Extreme Vetting Program.” The policy demands federal agencies boost their efforts to identify would-be terrorists who try to immigrate to the U.S. 

The White House did not expound on what additional measures the president requested. 

His calls reflected some of the hallmark promises he made during the 2016 presidential campaign. Then-candidate Trump called for a complete ban on Muslims entering the U.S. before throwing his support behind “extreme vetting” measures. 

Trump has implemented two versions of a travel ban, both of which have been tied up in federal courts. Neither version included Uzbekistan on its list of banned countries.  

Nonetheless, Trump denounced the U.S. justice system’s handling of terror suspects and immigration violations as a “joke” and a “laughingstock” and called for “far quicker” punishments for terror suspects like Saipov, whom Trump said he would “certainly consider” sending to the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

“They'll go through court for years,” Trump said. "And at the end, they'll be — who knows what happens. We need quick justice and we need strong justice — much quicker and much stronger than we have right now.”

The White House said later Wednesday it views Saipov as an “enemy combatant,” which could make him eligible to be prosecuted in the military justice system. 

“I believe we would consider this person to be an enemy combatant, yes,” said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, adding his actions “certainly justify that” label. 

GOP national security hawks, including Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP and Dems bitterly divided by immigration We are running out of time to protect Dreamers US trade deficit rises on record imports from China MORE (S.C.) and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat Meghan McCain knocks Bannon: 'Who the hell are you' to criticize Romney? Dems demand Tillerson end State hiring freeze, consult with Congress MORE (Ariz.), pushed Trump to give Saipov that label.

But a transfer to Guantánamo appeared to be squashed Wednesday evening, when federal prosecutors in New York unveiled terrorism charges against Saipov. That means he will almost certainly face the charges in civilian court.

“The Trump administration missed an important opportunity to send a strong message to terrorists and make America safer," Graham said in a statement. "This is a huge mistake. Very sad.”

It’s possible Trump could gain support for eliminating the diversity lottery, a move that will require congressional action.
 
A broader immigration overhaul drafted by Republicans and Democrats in 2013 called for its elimination, but the bill was never passed into law. Many lawmakers have said the program is susceptible to fraud.
 
Tuesday’s attack could refocus lawmakers’ attention on the issue. 
 
Trump has thrown his support behind a Republican bill in the Senate that would end the program as part of a sweeping overhaul of the U.S. visa system, which would eliminate family visa preferences in favor of a "merit-based' system.
 
That proposal thus far has not gained traction in Congress. 
 
The president could face other political challenges in killing the lottery. 
 
Earlier Wednesday, he denounced the program as a “Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerAmerica isn't ready to let Sessions off his leash Schumer celebrates New York Giants firing head coach: ‘About time’ GOP should reject the left's pessimism and the deficit trigger MORE beauty” — a reference to the Senate Democratic leader who played a role in creating it more than a quarter century ago. 
 
Democrats, and some Republicans, bristled at the notion that Schumer shares any responsibility for the events that led to the attack. 
 
In a fiery floor speech, Schumer accused Trump of “politicizing” the tragedy in their shared hometown, a charge Sanders denied. 
 
"Let me be really clear: The president did not blame Sen. Schumer and doesn't feel that the senator is responsible for the attack," she told reporters. 
 
The spokeswoman suggested Trump was not politicizing the attack by pushing stricter immigration rules because "it's something the president has been talking about a long time."
 
Other Democrats accused Trump of hypocrisy for talking up the immigration measures, citing his claim that the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting was too early to consider new gun laws.
 
Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat Sasse: RNC help for Roy Moore 'doesn't make any sense' Sasse calls RNC decision to resume support for Moore 'bad' and 'sad' MORE (R-Ariz.), one of Trump’s most vocal foes in Congress, said the president unfairly blamed Schumer for the program, noting that he co-authored the immigration bill four years ago that would have ended the lottery. 
 
“Actually, the Gang of 8, including @SenSchumer, did away with the Diversity Visa Program as part of broader reforms. I know, I was there,” tweeted Flake, who was also a member of the “gang.”
 
Then-President George H.W. Bush in 1990 signed an immigration bill into law that created the lottery system, which allows the State Department to issue as many as 50,000 visas per year. 
 
Despite Sanders’ claim that applicants go through little to no vetting, they are required to have a high-school diploma, work experience and must be considered admissible to the U.S. — which would rule out people with connection to terror groups. 
 
Updated at 7:39 p.m.