MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
When President Trump laid out his immigration plan last night, he said it rests on four pillars. The third of those pillars is to end the Diversity Visa Program.
(SOUNDBITE OF 2018 STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: A program that randomly hands out green cards without any regard for skill, merit or the safety of American people.
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Most of us actually know this program as the green card lottery. No family connection is needed, no employer or sponsor. The most important ingredient you need is luck. The program had its origins in the 1980s. It was designed to benefit a growing population of undocumented Irish immigrants in New York and Massachusetts.
KELLY: Later, it was broadened to include countries that don't generally send a lot of immigrants to the United States. I spoke earlier with Muzaffar Chishti from the Migration Policy Institute. And he pointed out that despite all this talk about the green card lottery, it ultimately is a small slice of the overall American immigration picture.
MUZAFFAR CHISHTI: Look, you know, we admit about a million people a year with green cards. The diversity program allows about 50,000 people. That's about 5 percent of our immigrant stream. About 20,000 go to European countries, 20,000 go to African countries and about 8,000 go to Asian countries. That's been the mix.
KELLY: We mentioned Ireland was the initial big beneficiary. I gather Poland has also been a big beneficiary, also African countries. There's been a huge influx of African immigrants under this program.
CHISHTI: Exactly. I think historians would argue that the largest migration of Africans that happened since slavery to the United States was made possible by the Diversity Visa. Countries like Nigeria, countries like Sierra Leone, countries like Guinea, Liberia have been big beneficiaries. On the other hand, countries like Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Poland have also been big beneficiaries.
And Bangladesh is an outlier here but a huge beneficiary of the program since it was started.
KELLY: Do you have data that shows how lottery recipients tend to fare when they get to the United States?
CHISHTI: I think there's really no hard data. But I think it is - one of the criticisms of the Diversity Program is that people come with no established attachment to the country. But on the other hand, they come with, you know, fire in their belly. And lot of people argue that that is much more consistent with the founding of our country, that people who just have a lot of gumption can succeed well.
KELLY: Let me ask you about another argument that's been made against this program, which is that it might, despite the screenings that are done at the outset, allow dangerous people to come into the country. A recent example has been flagged. This is the man from Uzbekistan, Sayfullo Saipov, who carried out that truck attack in Manhattan just last fall that killed eight people. He came in through the visa lottery program in 2010.
CHISHTI: You know, I think first of all, the security concerns are equally valid for all admission categories. There's nothing peculiar about the diversity visas that make them more vulnerable to admission of terrorists. And with respect to the terrorists who are being tied to these programs, they all - by every piece of evidence we know, they were radicalized in the United States after the admission.
So nothing in the screening process could indicate that this person who we are admitting today could potentially get radicalized a few years down the line. If there are concerns about security, they should be addressed. But they should be addressed with respect to all categories of immigrants.
KELLY: Muzaffar Chishti of the Migration Policy Institute, thank you so much for speaking with us.
CHISHTI: Thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.