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Trump says visa lottery rewards the "worst" immigrants. That's inaccurate

Trump's Cabinet meeting
Trump touts year of achievements in first Cabinet meeting of 2018 11:40

During Tuesday's hour-long bipartisan meeting on immigration reform, members of Congress and the Trump administration listened as President Donald Trump repeated a favorite line about the diversity visa lottery system he wants to end. 

"They call it 'visa lottery,' I just call it 'lottery,'" Mr. Trump said during the meeting. "But countries come in and they put names in a hopper. They're not giving you their best names; common sense means they're not giving you their best names. They're giving you people that they don't want. And then we take them out of the lottery. And when they do it by hand -- where they put the hand in a bowl -- they're probably -- what's in their hand are the worst of the worst."

Mr. Trump's 55-minute ensemble performance may have helped counter the notion perpetuated by author Michael Wolff that the president is unstable, incurious and not very smart, but it was also evident that he remains comfortable with making statements that are not true.

The annual Diversity Visa program is an electronic lottery program that allocates 50,000 immigrant visas available to people from countries with low immigration rates to the U.S. Contrary to Mr. Trump's description, which likens the process to a manual Powerball drawing, the lottery is a computer-generated drawing out of a State Department outpost, the Kentucky Consular Center, in Williamsburg, Kentucky.

"No," an operator at the Kentucky Consular Center curtly confirmed when asked if the president was accurate in his telling of how the lottery process works.

Trump calls on Congress to end visa lottery program 02:38

Interested and eligible applicants can only apply electronically – which often means long lines at Internet cafes in developing countries during the weeks-long entry period -- and they are not, as Trump argues, "the worst of the worst," handpicked by their country's government.

According to the State Department's 18-page list of instructions, applicants must have a high school education or two years of work experience in the past five years that requires "two years of training or experience," in addition to a medical exam and no criminal record. Lottery winners are then subjected to a months-long background security check. In 2016, the State Department rejected more than 309,000 applications.

Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration attorney who teaches immigration and asylum law at Cornell Law School, wrote an op-ed in December dispelling Mr. Trump's false claims about the program.

Loehr cited a 2011 Congressional Research Service report that shows that a higher percentage of diversity entrants hold professional occupations than green card holders, along with a lower unemployment rate. He also writes that the program is a "true lottery."

"There is no way a foreign government can game the lottery to offload the worst of their citizenry," Yale-Loehr writes. "Applicants who commit fraud, say by applying more than once each year to increase their chances of winning, are barred from the program. The State Department has issued specific warnings against fraud in the diversity visa program. So even if a government tried to game the lottery, it should be caught."

The Diversity Visa lottery program was created in 1990 with bipartisan support. A U.S. official described the creation of the program as a response to the drop off in immigration numbers from predominantly Caucasian and European countries.

"If anyone were to complain, it'd be a liberal because it gave white people preference," a U.S. official said.

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