WH ramps up calls for immigration overhaul after NYC terror attack

WH ramps up calls for immigration overhaul after NYC terror attack
© Getty Images

The White House on Tuesday sought to drive home its case for tougher immigration laws in the wake of this week’s attempted terror attack in New York City.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump reversed course on flavored e-cigarette ban over fear of job losses: report Trump to award National Medal of Arts to actor Jon Voight Sondland notified Trump officials of investigation push ahead of Ukraine call: report MORE called on Congress to end certain immigration preferences for family members of U.S. citizens, saying they pose a national security threat.

Trump pointed out that the suspected attacker, Akayed Ullah, entered the country through "chain migration” — a practice that allows foreigners to obtain visas if they have family members who are U.S. citizens. 

“We’re going to end ‘em. Fast,” the president said.

ADVERTISEMENT

Lee Francis Cissna, the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, later made an appearance at Tuesday’s White House press briefing to reinforce the president’s message but ended up muddling it instead.

Cissna described in detail how Ullah secured a visa as the nephew of a U.S. citizen, which he called “the most extreme, remote family-based connection you can have.”

Ullah’s uncle came to the country through the visa-lottery program, another program Trump has argued can be taken advantage of by terrorists.

“What we need is an immigration system that is selective,” Cissna said. “We want to be able to select the types of people who are coming here based on criteria that ensures their success.”

The director then claimed that people who arrive in the U.S. through chain-migration are more likely to be radicalized by terror groups. Asked if he had data to back the claim up, Cissna said, “no.”

And Cissna said he did not “have a command of the facts” when asked if Ullah had been radicalized prior to coming to the U.S. from Bangladesh in 2011.

Trump’s tendency to seize on terror attacks to push his immigration agenda has been the subject of fierce debate in Washington. 

The president’s immigration proposals — most notably his travel ban — have drawn legal challenges from opponents who say they target Muslims and Hispanics.

Democrats and immigrant rights advocates also argue the U.S. already has tough screening procedures to keep potential terrorists out of the country.

But it was no surprise Trump decided to highlight Monday’s failed attack in his hometown.

Ullah attempted to detonate a bomb in the New York subway system, but the explosion failed and the 27-year-old suspect was the only person who suffered serious injuries.

The suspected attacker reportedly told police he was inspired by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to carry out the bombing.

Federal prosecutors said Ullah called out Trump on Facebook just before the attack, writing in a post that "you failed to protect your nation.”

Trump reacted similarly to an attack in New York last month, calling for an end to the visa lottery after a suspect in a separate attack was found to have come to the U.S. using that program. 

The president has demanded an end to chain migration and the visa lottery as part of a broader crackdown on what he sees as lax immigration and border security policies.  

“Diversity lottery. Sounds nice. It’s not good. It’s not good. It hasn’t been good. We’ve been against it,” Trump said last month.

The White House submitted a set of immigration demands, including a border wall, in exchange for a legislative fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which Trump announced in fall he would end in March.

DACA, which was created by former President Obama, allows young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children to live and work without fear of deportation.

Democrats have rejected Trump’s demands as too extreme.

The White House’s decision to turn its focus to immigration comes at a time when the president is facing renewed scrutiny over allegations of sexual misconduct against him. 

Three women who accused Trump of sexual harassment or misconducted banded together for a media tour Monday, where they called for a congressional investigation into his conduct.

Several Democratic senators have called on Trump to resign, adding fuel to a story that has dominated news coverage over the past two days. 

After Cissna’s appearance during the White House briefing, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was peppered with questions about Trump’s suggestive claim that one of the senators, Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandMaloney primary challenger calls on her to return, donate previous campaign donations from Trump Senate confirms controversial circuit court nominee She Should Run launches initiative to expand number of women in political process MORE (D-N.Y.) “would do anything” for a campaign contribution from him.