“Twenty-two to twenty-four people came in through him. He’s a killer. He’s a guy who ran over eight — many people — eight died; 10 to 12 are really badly injured. So I really think that a lot of people are going to agree with us now on that subject.”
— Trump, remarks at a bipartisan meeting on immigration, Jan. 9
“So the lottery has to end, chain migration — he brought in, they say, 22 people through the chain. So we have 22 of his relatives; why?”
— Trump, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Jan. 11
In November, after Uzbekistan-born Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov allegedly killed eight people and injured a dozen others by driving a pickup truck down a bicycle path near the World Trade Center in New York, President Trump attacked the diversity visa program that gave Saipov legal permanent residency in the United States. He also made a startling claim: Saipov was the “point of contact” for “23 people that came in or potentially came in with him.”
Trump’s comments caused a brief flurry of attention and then were quickly forgotten. But twice since the start of the year, the president has resurrected the claim, without any caveat about “preliminarily” or “potentially.” Now Trump flatly says that 22 (or 24) of Saipov’s relatives are in the country, in what the president labeled as “chain migration.”
We did some digging, and it turns out that this is – gasp – fake news.
“Chain migration” refers to the practice of immigrants bringing other members of their families to the United States. Under U.S. law, there is a preference for relatives already living in the United States, so a U.S. citizen can petition for a green card for spouses, children, parents or siblings. So, for example, a sibling of U.S. citizen could come to the United States, bringing along spouses and minor children.
That’s how Akayed Ullah, accused of setting off a pipe bomb in Manhattan in December, came to the United States from Bangladesh in 2011, according to the Department of Homeland Security. He obtained a green card as the child of a sibling of the U.S. citizen.
Saipov arrived in the United States in 2010 through the diversity visa lottery. But Saipov is not a U.S. citizen yet; he just has a green card. The rules are stricter for green-card holders: they can only petition for a spouse or unmarried children.
Saipov is married, but his wife (also Uzbek) was already in the United States when they met and then married in Ohio. (Her parents live in Brooklyn.) Saipov and his wife have three young children, all of whom are already U.S. citizens because they were born in the United States.
So that adds up to zero people brought in by Saipov.
If Saipov had eventually become a citizen, he could have petitioned for his parents and his three sisters, who now live in Uzbekistan, to come to the United States. That would be five people, though if the sisters were married (one is 17 and the two others are older), they could eventually bring in spouses and children. But there’s often a lengthy wait list. As of November, according to the State Department, nearly 4 million people are waiting to get off the list, including 2.3 million“family fourth” preferences – children of siblings of citizens.
That’s another problem with Trump’s claim: Not only is Saipov not a U.S. citizen, but even if he was, it’s “probably close to impossible” that he could bring in two dozen people in seven years, according to Mark Krikorian, executive director of Center for Immigration Studies, which supports stricter immigration limits and a merit-based immigration system.
Krikorian speculated that Trump garbled something he heard in a briefing. Pointing to Trump’s use of “potentially” in his first comment in November, as well as the phrase “point of contact,” Krikorian said “maybe he has 23 relatives back in Uzbekistan.”
Regular readers know the burden of proof rests with the speaker. But the White House and DHS declined to offer any explanation or documentation for the president’s statements. If Trump is hanging this statistic on “potentially,” that’s a real whopper, especially the way he framed it in recent comments.
The Pinocchio Test
This reminds us of when Trump three times falsely claimed that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte refused to let President Barack Obama land his plane in Manila. Obama’s visits to the Philippines were uneventful, and we wondered at the time why no one on the White House would point out the mistake to the president.
Here, the president three times has made a claim that again appears based on a misunderstanding. The first time, he included a mysterious caveat – “potentially” – but all caveats have been dropped now. Yet under no scenario is his claim feasible. As far as we can tell, Saipov has not brought a single relative into the country.
Given that this claim of “chain migration” is central to the president’s push to overhaul immigration laws, we are surprised the White House would not try to correct the record. If the president is giving out fake news awards, he should reserve a plaque for himself. His statement resulted in headlines that now appear to be wrong.
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