The White House said Monday that President Donald Trump’s preferred immigration policies would have prevented the suspect in an attempted New York terrorist attack from entering the country.
The White House offered no evidence about where the suspect was radicalized.
The suspect, Akayed Ullah, 27, came to the US from Bangladesh in 2011 on a visa for children of siblings of US citizens, the Department of Homeland Security confirmed Monday. Ullah is a lawful permanent resident, or green card holder, spokesman Tyler Houlton said.
The administration also immediately pointed to so-called chain migration in relation to the attack, a term that describes immigration to the US based on family connections.
“The suspect … benefited from extended family chain migration,” Houlton said in the statement.
Shortly after that, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders made the case that Ullah would not have been in the US if Trump’s preferred immigration policy were implemented.
The President has repeatedly called for an end or restrictions on “chain migration,” and has endorsed a bill from Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia that would drastically reduce the number of immigrants who can get green cards to stay in the US.
“We know that the President’s policy calls for an end to chain migration, which is what this individual came to the United States through, and had his policy been in place, then that attacker would not have been allowed to come into the country,” Sanders said.
Sanders could not answer a follow-up question about whether the individual had been radicalized in the United States in the years he’s lived here, as have recent terrorist attackers in the US who were not natural born citizens.
She said the incident — which caused non-life-threatening injuries to three others in addition to Ullah, who had an amateur explosive device strapped to his body — indicated the need for policy changes.
“This attack underscores the need for Congress to work with the President on immigration reforms that enhance our national security and public safety,” Sanders said. “We must protect our borders, we must ensure that individuals entering our country are not coming to do harm to our people and we must move to a merit-based system.”
Critics have pointed to the fact that only a small fraction of green cards are given out each year based on employment as evidence of the need to revamp the US immigration system. Family connections, including spouses, children and extended family, account for a large share of green cards given out each year.
US citizens over age 21 are able to sponsor siblings for visas to the US, and Ullah’s type of visa is given to the children under 21 years of age of those siblings. Those families still must meet eligibility requirements to enter the US and are screened and interviewed.
Cotton and Perdue’s bill would cut the number of green cards given out per year by roughly half, by sharply cutting the number of family-based categories for visas and by transforming the employment-based green card system from one based on employers’ needs to one that heavily favors highly skilled, highly educated, English-speaking immigrants.
That bill lacks wide support in Congress, including among many Republicans, though Trump has pushed for it to be part of a deal to save the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy he has opted to end.