Schumer on Diversity Visa: ‘This is an Excellent Program’

Sen. Chuck Schumer’s long record of enthusiastic support for his diversity visa program is making it difficult for him to escape partial blame for the October 31 truck attack by a diversity-visa recipient who killed eight cyclists in Manhattan.

On May 24, 2006, for example, Schumer gave a floor speech in the Senate celebrating the diversity visa program:

This is an excellent program. Nobody has said it has done a bad job. It is small. There are only about 50,000 visas a year. It is really based on the idea of new seed … So I plead with my colleagues, keep the diversity visa program …

As I ride my bike around New York City on the weekends, I see what immigrants do for America. This program has dramatically helped. Neighborhoods such as Woodlawn and Greenpoint have been revitalized by new Irish and Polish immigrants. Neighborhoods such as East Flatbush and Harlem have been revitalized by West African immigrants. We don’t have to stop this program.

Schumer ally GOP Rep. Jeff Flake tweeted a defense of Schumer and his diversity visa, one day after a Muslim lottery winner allegedly killed eight American cyclists in New York:

Both Flake and Schumer were members of the 2013 “Gang of Eight” which drafted a huge immigration-expansion bill. The 2013 bill effectively replaced the annual inflow of 50,000 diversity immigrants by adding new routes for an extra 2 million legal immigrants per year. That huge increase would have boosted the expected number of legal immigrants up to 30 million during the subsequent decade.

Schumer also tried to change the subject;

Schumer defended his diversity program in a May 2006 floor speech as the Senate tried to advance a “comprehensive immigration reform” bill sought by President George W. Bush.

Schumer’s core claim was that the federal government should not choose to award green cards to high-skill people instead of low-skill people, but should award visas to both. He said:

 I think America should admit many more of those people but not at the expense of this small, successful program that guarantees that other countries, such as the Irelands, the Polands, and the Nigerias that are unable to have immigrants come in for family reasons, can get people to come into this country. So why can’t we have both?

Seven years later, Schumer followed the same “both” strategy when he was one of the eight authors of the 2013 “Gang of Eight” immigration reform bill. That bill ended the diversity visa program but created many new routes for many more migrants to enter the United States.

The 2013 bill would have tripled the inflow of legal immigrants over the following 10 years, from roughly 10 million up to roughly 30 million, said Jessica Vaughan, policy director at the Center for Immigration Studies.  She continued:

They nominally killed the visa lottery, but replaced it multiple times over in other forms, in other parts of that bill. For example, by creating new visas for countries with which we have trade agreements, new programs for guest-workers, by increasing the level of immigration over by double or triple the level of immigration and guest-workers overall.

Rather than a lottery, they had a massive expansion of immigration across the board … they did away with the random selection [lottery] process and offered admission to almost all without a lottery.

For example, the bill added two new “merit-based” categories for 250,000 additional immigrants. The “Tier 1” program was described as a skills-based program because it offered visas to people who accumulated points for various attributes. Points were given for education — but also for people who could speak English, serve as babysitters or were from countries served by the Diversity Visa. For example, the program offered points to:

(G) English language.–An alien who received a score of 80 or more on the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or an equivalent score on a similar test, as determined by the Secretary, shall be allocated 10 points …
(J) Country of origin.–An alien who is a national of a country of which fewer than 50,000 nationals were lawfully admitted to permanent residence in the United States in the previous 5 years shall be allocated 5 points …
(C) Caregiver.–An alien who is or has been a primary caregiver shall be allocated 10 points.

The vast expansion was accompanied by a sharp reduction in immigration enforcement measures, she said. “They put conditions on the border patrol, made it more difficult to remove criminals, and made it hard for ICE to carry out deportations,” he said. 

The extra inflow of blue-collar workers and white-collar professionals would have reduced Americans’ per-capita income and rewarded investors and Wall Street, said a June 2013 report by the Congressional Budget Office.

Amid strong public opposition, the 2013 bill was blocked by House Speaker John Boehner. The public opposition also helped flip nine Democratic seats in the Senate to the GOP in the November 2014 elections, and also put Donald Trump on his path to the White House in 2016.

The 2014 loss of nine seats demoted Schumer to Minority Leader,  and sharply reduced his ability to block Donald Trump’s anti-amnesty administration in 2017.

In 2006, Schumer used the Senate floor to describe his support for the diversity program:

Mr. SCHUMER. Mr. President, I see my good friend from New Hampshire [GOP Sen. Judd Gregg] coming to the floor to offer his amendment. I must rise in opposition to the soon to be pending amendment, which would essentially do away with the original purpose of the diversity visa program.

As a Member of the House, I helped create this program, which my colleague, Senator KENNEDY, created in the Senate in 1990. It had a very simple purpose, and that was this. Our immigration laws were based on family reunification and certain other qualifications, so there were whole ranges of countries from which people could not get visas. They tended to be European and African, even though the vast majority of Americans are descendents of Europeans and Africans. But because for several generations no people had come from those countries—the people were either third cousins or unrelated to people here—the family unification, a very noble purpose, took predominance and the overwhelming majority of immigrants came from the Caribbean, Latin America, and Asia. This diversity program was a small program, and it was intended to allow some from other countries to come. In fact, my city of New York has dramatically benefited from this program, and diverse countries such as Ireland, Poland, and Nigeria have had large numbers of immigrants to be able to come, set roots, and help the diversity of New York and of America.

So this is an excellent program. Nobody has said it has done a bad job. It is small. There are only about 50,000 visas a year. It is really based on the idea of new seed. I believe every immigrant is special because they, or all of us who descend from them, come from a special group of people who had the guts and the gumption to get off their butts and basically come to America. They said: I don’t want to lead this disease-ridden, impoverished life. I am willing to come here and take a risk. That is one of the reasons America is a special place—the idea of bringing new seed to this country, people who are willing to risk everything, is great.

I have one example. I met a man named Napoleon Barragan, who probably would not qualify under this program. He founded 1–800–Mattress. It employs about a thousand people in Queens. I went to his office and saw this picture in which there were grass huts with kids playing in the front. He said: That is the village in which I was born in Ecuador. He said: Of all those kids, only one had the gumption, the guts to leave that impoverished, disease-ridden life and come to America. He said: Do you know who that was? I said no, but I had an idea. He said: Me. He went on to found a company that employs a thousand people.

My friend from New Hampshire and colleague from Washington say let’s have more visas for highly educated people. I am all for that. But this bill puts a whole lot of visas in for that, and that is why groups as diverse not only as the NAACP and U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops but the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and I am even told that Microsoft opposes this amendment because they are very happy with the much needed increase in people who have certain skills and certain education. I think America should admit many more of those people but not at the expense of this small, successful program that guarantees that other countries, such as the Irelands, the Polands, and the Nigerias that are unable to have immigrants come in for family reasons, can get people to come into this country. So why can’t we have both?

If you believe that immigrants are good for America, as I do, and you believe both highly educated people and new seed people are good for America, why do we have to rob Peter to pay Paul? As I said, Microsoft, which has led the charge for more highly educated people, such as engineers and scientists, to be allowed into this country, is not asking that this program be changed. These companies recognize, as Senator KENNEDY did in the Senate and as I did in the House a long time ago, that this country is better served by bringing immigrants from all over the world at all levels. We certainly need more scientists and engineers, but we also need new immigrants like Napoleon Barragan—ambitious people without money and a family connection—to come here and start new businesses.

The great thing about America is when you work hard, you benefit yourself, your family and, in that way, you benefit America. My own ancestors were immigrants. They didn’t come here with advanced degrees. My father was an exterminator. I am a U.S. Senator. That says something great about America. But one of the things great about America is, again, we allow people from all over the world to come here.

So I plead with my colleagues, keep the diversity visa program. It is small, 50,000 a year. From all the groups that want more educated immigrants to come to America, we do not hear any need to take away from this program to add more. They are very happy with what Senator SPECTER has done in the bill, as am I, which is increase the numbers of H–1Bs and other visas for these folks. We can have both. We do not have to rob Peter to pay Paul.

As I ride my bike around New York City on the weekends, I see what immigrants do for America. This program has dramatically helped. Neighborhoods such as Woodlawn and Greenpoint have been revitalized by new Irish and Polish immigrants. Neighborhoods such as East Flatbush and Harlem have been revitalized by West African immigrants. We don’t have to stop this program.

I urge my colleagues to vote no on a well-intentioned but misguided amendment and preserve the diversity program as well as other parts of the bill that allow more educated immigrants to come to this country. I yield the floor.


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