Erica Pandey
Facts Matter Featured

The big questions surrounding diversity visas

The Statue of Liberty, a longstanding symbol welcoming immigrants to the United States. Photo: Richard Drew / AP

Today is the deadline to apply for the 2019 Diversity Immigrant Visa Program lottery. President Trump has called on Congress to "terminate" the program, after it was reported that alleged Manhattan attacker Sayfullo Saipov entered the U.S. from Uzbekistan on a diversity visa.

The big picture: Trump said he favors replacing the program with "merit-based immigration" and "extreme vetting," and he blamed Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer for shepherding the program through Congress, but the existing system does include a vetting process and received bipartisan support when it was passed. Here are the big questions surround the program, and their answers:

What is it?

The diversity visa program uses a lottery system to select individuals from countries "with historically low rates of immigration to the United States." The countries on that list span six regions — Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceania, North America and South America — and can be viewed here. Each year, 50,000 visas are awarded, and no one country can receive more than 7% of them. Countries from which more than 50,000 people have emigrated to the U.S. in the last five years are taken off the list.

Who's eligible?

Each applicant must be a native of one of the eligible countries or the spouse of a native. Applicants can also claim eligibility if their parents are natives of an eligible country and neither were residents of the county the applicant was born in at the time the applicant was born.

There are also certain merit requirements. Applicants must have at least a high-school-level education or "two years of work experience within the past five years in an occupation that requires at least two years of training or experience to perform."

When was it created?

The morning after the Manhattan attack, Trump tweeted, "We are fighting hard for Merit Based immigration, no more Democrat Lottery Systems." He called the diversity visa program "a Chuck Schumer beauty."

The diversity visa program was launched as part of the Immigration Act of 1990 and signed into law by then-President George H.W. Bush. Schumer was the lead sponsor on the original House bill, per PolitiFact. But the program earned yes votes from then-Rep. Newt Gingrich as well as Sens. Mitch McConnell, Thad Cochran, Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch and John McCain.

During an effort to overhaul the immigration system in 2013, Schumer was part of the "gang of eight" congressional leaders who put the lottery program on the chopping block, as Sen. Jeff Flake pointed out to Trump. That bill was killed in the House.

What's the vetting process?

Recipients of diversity visas are vetted through the same process as any other visa recipients, constitutional studies professor Anna Law told the Atlantic. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Wednesday that the White House opposes the program because it "randomly select[s] people without thorough vetting."

What's next?

Trump has called on Congress to take immediate action in terminating the diversity visa program. In August, Sens. Tom Cotton and David Perdue introduced a bill to eliminate the program in favor of a point-based system for employment visas which would make it difficult for low-skilled immigrants to come to the U.S., CNN reports. Trump has endorsed the Cotton-Perdue bill.

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Longest-serving congressman settled sexual harassment complaint

Rep. John Conyers of Michigan. Photo: Charles Dhaparak / AP

Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the longest-serving representative currently in the House, allegedly fired a female employee because she would not "succumb to [his] sexual advances," and then settled a wrongful dismissal complaint in 2015, BuzzFeed reports. Rep. Conyers did not admit fault as part of the settlement and did not respond to multiple requests from BuzzFeed for comment.

Why it matters: Congress has paid $17 million in harassment settlements over the last 20 years. Conyers' former employee told BuzzFeed that the process of reporting the harassment she faced made her feel as though she had no choice but to accept the settlement offer and stay silent. For example, a complainant must sign a confidentiality form before moving forward with the complaint. "I was basically blackballed. There was nowhere I could go," she said.

BuzzFeed says the case is illustrative of "a grinding, closely held process" that was the "mechanism by which Congress has kept an unknown number of sexual harassment allegations secret."

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Moore campaign argues points of one accuser's story

Roy Moore is Alabama's Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate. The election is on Dec. 12. Photo: Butch Dill / AP

Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore's campaign released statements from former waitresses at Olde Hickory House — the alleged site where one of the accusations of sexual assault against him took place — that refuted parts of accuser Beverly Young Nelson's story.

Yes, but: There are six other women who have come forward with allegations. Moore denies any sexual misconduct, but told Fox's Sean Hannity that he "dated a lot of young ladies."

The statements say Olde Hickory House had a policy of only hiring people 16 and older. Nelson said she was 15 when she waitressed at the restaurant and the alleged assault occurred. The former waitresses also say the dumpsters were located at the side of restaurant, and the area was well lit, while Nelson alleged that the assault took place next to dumpsters in the dark and isolated back lot of the restaurant. A former police officer, who says he frequented the restaurant, and a former waitress both say they do not remember seeing Moore at Olde Hickory House. Nelson said Moore often dined there.

On Wednesday, the Moore campaign attempted to discredit Nelson by saying the yearbook signature from Moore that she presented as evidence was fake.

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U.S. lifts deportation protections from Haitians

Temporary Protection Status was granted after the Haiti earthquake in 2010. Photo: Lynne Sladky / AP

The Department of Homeland Security has lifted Haitians' Temporary Protection Status from deportation, which was granted after the 2010 earthquake in the Caribbean nation.

The approximately 50,000 Haitians living and working across the country will have 18 months — until July 22, 2019 — to go back to Haiti or legalize their status in the U.S., per the Miami Herald.

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NYC mayor: Bill Clinton "would have to resign" if he were president now

Bill de Blasio. Photo: Tsafrir Abayov / AP

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said, "I don't think you can rework history ... If any president did that today they would have to resign," when asked whether former President Bill Clinton should have stepped down over the his affair with then-White House intern Monica Lewinsky. He made the comments to NY1 reporter Grace Rauh.

The backdrop: Liberal politicians have been forced to reckon with the handling of Clinton's affair in light of the recent flood of sexual harassment allegations which have hit powerful men in every industry, including national politics.

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Lawmaker says ex-congressman tried to forcibly kiss her

Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado told MSNBC's Katy Tur that her then-colleague in the House, former Rep. Bob Filner, tried to pin her against an elevator door and kiss her. Filner was ousted from his position as mayor of San Diego in 2013 after multiple female staff members came forward with allegations of assault and harassment.

  • On harassment in Congress: "What strikes me in this conversation is that a lot of my colleagues and others have said this is going on, but they seem somehow so reluctant to say who did it."
  • On the allegations against Sen. Al Franken: "I thought [he] very appropriately apologized and said that ... his future should be decided by the Ethics Committee."
  • On whether Franken should resign: "If these things had happened now, while Senator Franken was a senator, then I think probably he should resign," but the alleged incident described by Leeann Tweeden took place before Franken was elected.
  • On the second accusation leveled against Franken, which took place after he was elected to the Senate: "The Ethics Committee needs to investigate and decide whether that's true."
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White House: Trump wants supportive senators, but Moore's fate up to voters

Sanders takes questions at a White House briefing. Photo: AP

Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said, "The president wants people in the House and the Senate that support his agenda," when asked if Trump would approve of Roy Moore's election to the U.S. Senate. She also said repeatedly that Trump is leaving the decision to the people of Alabama. That followed similar comments from Kellyanne Conway on Monday morning

Sanders instructed reporters to say what they're thankful for this Thanksgiving before asking questions. Starting it off herself, she said, "I'm sure you all know, I'm thankful for everyone in this room." Some reporters responded: 'I'm thankful for the First Amendment."

  • Trump's tweet saying he "should have left [the UCLA basketball players] in jail" was just a "rhetorical" response to LiAngelo Ball's father, LaVar Ball.
  • Before Sanders, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson briefed the press on Trump's decision to put North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
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Tillerson: "We still hope for diplomacy" with North Korea

Tillerson led Monday's White House briefing. Photo: Evan Vucci / AP

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the decision to put North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism is part of the "peaceful pressure campaign" against the regime. The U.S. is not out of diplomatic options, Tillerson said.

Sanctions have had an impact in North Korea, the secretary said. "We know there are significant shortages of fuel. We know that their revenue flows are down."

  • "It's very difficult for us to know if China is taking action to curtail" oil shipments to North Korea.
  • The assassination of Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jong-un's brother, in Malaysia pushed Trump to take a closer look at putting North Korea on the list, Tillerson said. He was killed with a lethal chemical weapon.
  • After Tillerson, Sanders took reporters' questions about the White House's position on Roy Moore.
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Argentina's Navy detects possible distress signal from missing sub

A ship leaves an Argentina Naval base to join the search for missing submarine ARA San Juan. Photo: Marina Devo / AP

Argentinian navy ships detected noises coming from beneath the ocean's surface that sounded like tools banging against the hull of a submarine, CNN reports. The sounds were detected about 330 miles from the coast of Argentina and may be a distress signal sent by the ARA San Juan — a submarine with a crew of 44 that disappeared Wednesday.

The submarine's captain reported a failure in the battery system before the sub went missing. Navy officials said they have not been able to contact the vessel since Wednesday, but it was scheduled to dock in Argentina on Sunday. The search continues in the area where the sounds were detected.

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The states where private prisons are thriving

Private prisons are a $5 billion industry that employs more than 33,000 people, per the market research firm IBISWorld. Here's where they're most prevalent:


Note: States with no private prison population are as of December 31, 2015; Data was not available for Nevada, Oregon and Vermont; Data: Bureau of Justice Statistics; Chart: Chris Canipe / Axios

Why it matters: The Obama Justice Department pushed to end the federal government's use of private prisons. But the Trump administration's decision to rescind the order has led the industry to hope for a resurgence, though some states like New York, Iowa and Illinois, have ended their use for state prisoners.

Key takeaways:
  • In 2015, 126,272 people — or about 8% of the country's prison population — were housed in private facilities.
  • The states with highest shares of inmates in private prisons were New Mexico (42.2%) and Montana (40.4%).
  • Texas alone housed 14,293 inmates in private prisons.
  • Per IBISWorld, the private prison industry has been growing at a rate of about 1% per year since 2012.
  • If a state has a private prison population of zero, that does not necessarily mean that the state does not have such facilities, per the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The data simply indicates that no prisoners were held in private prisons at the end of the year in 2015.