Trump administration tries to connect N.Y. terror incident to immigration proposals

WASHINGTON — U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director L. Francis Cissna stepped in to the White House press briefing on Tuesday to push for changes in family immigration and the visa lottery but he was repeatedly unable to cite any data supporting his proposals when pressed by reporters.

Cissna began by saying the bombing that took place in New York City’s Times Square the day before was a case in which the immigration system “didn’t work.” He cited the legal permanent residency status of the suspect, Akayed Ullah, who is from Bangladesh.

“There’s an immigration aspect to this. The immigration aspect is that he immigrated to this country. He was a green card holder, a lawful permanent resident,” Cissna said of Ullah. “He came to this country based on a family connection to a U.S. citizen who was a national of Bangladesh. The U.S. citizen in question was his uncle and that U.S. citizen many years ago came to this country originally as a visa lottery winner. So, this is the general background.”

Ullah was the only person seriously injured after he improperly detonated a bomb strapped to his body in a crowded subway station during the morning rush hour. In statements to investigators after the incident, Ullah indicated he is a supporter of the jihadist group Islamic State, authorities said.

Police block off a street in Brooklyn, N.Y., where officials say suspect Akayed Ullah was living. (Photo: Michael Noble Jr./AP)

Cissna described people obtaining lawful status through family members in this way as “chain migration,” which President Trump opposes. Cissna also discussed the diversity visa lottery system, which he described as “rife” with fraud. Cissna further panned the “low” criteria for entry in the lottery, which requires a person to be from an eligible country and to have two years of job training or a high school education.

“The fraud, the low eligibility standards, all of this contributes to potential exploitation by terrorists and other mala fide actors,” Cissna said of the lottery program.

In general, Cissna said the Trump administration wants to see changes to the lottery and family immigration. He called on Congress to “seriously take into account these concerns that we have” during immigration reform debates.

“It is our administration’s view that that is not the way that we should be running our immigration system,” Cissna said, adding, “What we need is an immigration system that is selective. We want to be able to select the types of people that are coming here based on criteria that ensure their success. … Random lotteries, extended family connections, that’s not the way to run our immigration system.”

Cissna then took questions from the reporters in the briefing room and was asked if he had any information about whether Ullah was radicalized prior to entering the United States.

“I have no idea. I don’t know,” Cissna said. “I truly have no idea if he was radicalized at all. I don’t know.”

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Francis Cissna speaks to reporters during a daily press briefing. (Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AO)

Cissna was also questioned about whether he had any information that immigrants who come to the U.S. through the lottery or through family members are more susceptible to radicalization.

“No,” he said.

Yahoo News then pointed to data showing that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes in the U.S. than natural-born citizens and asked Cissna if there is “any data behind this plan.” Without citing any contradictory data, he disputed the idea that there is evidence immigrants commit crimes at lower rates.

“Well, I don’t know that I agree with your first point. I don’t know where that data came from,” Cissna said.

Multiple studies have found incarceration rates among immigrants are lower than the native-born population. Yahoo News pointed out this information to Cissna. He declined to discuss the issue and did not provide any data of his own.

“Based on my questioning the … premise of your question, I don’t know that I want to engage in that dialogue at this time,” he said.

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