New York blast suspect Akayed Ullah came to US with a family immigrant visa sponsored by his uncle who had migrated to the country through a diversity lottery visa system, a top US official said Tuesday.
The 27-year-old, who migrated to US from Bangladesh some seven years ago, is a green card holder -- a lawful, permitted resident.
“He came to this country based on a family connection to a US citizen, who was a national of Bangladesh. The citizen in question was his uncle, and he had come here many years ago, originally as a visa lottery winner,” Lee Francis Cissna, director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) told White House reporters at a news conference.
The Bangladesh migrant was charged in a criminal complaint filed in Manhattan federal court with providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization, bombing a public place, destruction of property by means of explosive and use of a destructive device.
US President Donald Trump has taken the attack to drum support for his immigration ban, which, the White House said, would have prevented the attacker from entering the US.
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"There have been two terrorist attacks in New York City in recent weeks carried out by foreign nationals here on green cards. The first attacker came through the visa lottery and the second through chain migration,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Tuesday.
“We are going to end both of them: The lottery system and chain migration. We are going to end them fast," Trump said asking the Congress to get involved in the matter immediately.
Cissna said family based migration in 2015, for instance, accounted for about 72% of the immigrants and only 6%, or about 1 out of 15, came based on an employment or job connection, job offer.
Trump has been advocating for merit based immigration system.
In the family-based migration, there are multiple categories of people. The principle category of family-based immigrant is immediate relatives. They are the people who are the spouses or children, nuclear family members of a US citizen.
In a given year, there are about half a million people entering the country under that category.
In 2016, about 566,000 people immigrated to US under that category.
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Besides, there is another preference category under the family-based migration system. This category includes the extended family connections like unmarried sons and daughters of US citizens.
Second category is for the spouses of green card holders, unmarried sons and daughters of card holders while the third category is for married sons and daughters of US citizens.
The brothers and sisters of the citizens and their children fall under the fourth category.
Cessna said: “And that is the category that yesterday's [Monday’s attack] suspect came under. So, the suspect came in under the most extreme, remote possible family-based connection you can have under current US immigration law, that being the child of the sibling of a US citizen.”
Only a small number of migrants are entering US under the employment-based categories, he said, adding that only 140,000 slots are allocated in a year to that category.
He said about 50,000 people come to the US on diversity visa, which is allotted through a lottery system. Bangladesh is an interesting case, he said.
“That is the country where yesterday's [Monday’s] suspect came from. That country was a high user in the visa lottery program. In fact, in 2007, which was the peak year for that country's use of the visa lottery, 27% of the immigrants from that country came through that program, through the visa lottery program,” he added.
Responding to a question, he said the program is “vulnerable to exploitation by terrorists” because it is a combination of the low- eligibility criteria and the ability to defraud the system.
“Fraud is pervasive, in the program. So, if you are a malafide actor and you want to use that program to come into this country, it is easy to fake a high school graduation certificate,” Cessna said.