Ambassador Mark L. Asquino (ret.) Senior Public Diplomacy Fellow, SMPA (2010-11)
The Central Asian nation of Uzbekistan is in the news, but unfortunately, not in a positive way. Media coverage of the horrific, vehicular attack in New York City, which took the lives of eight people, six of whom were foreign tourists, highlights the fact that the alleged killer legally emigrated from Uzbekistan in 2010 on a diversity lottery visa. The latter allows citizens from countries with low emigration rates to the U.S. to enter a lottery for an immigrant visa. All those selected in the lottery must go through vigorous background checks and other vetting.
I was in Uzbekistan’s capital of Tashkent on 9/11. I will never forget the outpouring of grief and sympathy Uzbeks showed toward our country. Within hours of the attacks, there were piles of flowers and condolence notes in front of the U.S. embassy. Uzbeks often came up to my wife and me, put their right hand over their heart, and said how sorry they were for what had happened. An Uzbek was among those who died in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.
The Uzbekistan I fondly remember, from my three years there as Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. embassy, is filled with remarkable and wonderful people. The diversity visa lottery has allowed a number of them to come here where they are hard-working, patriotic and greatly add to the cultural mosaic that enriches our society. We are fortunate to have them as our friends and neighbors.
Conflating the act of one, deranged individual with the nation from which he emigrated is wrong. All indications are that the alleged killer was radicalized in the U.S. after he came here from Uzbekistan. And, in my view, politicizing this terrible tragedy to attack the diversity visa lottery program is disgraceful.
Caveat: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views either of the Institute of Public Diplomacy and Global Communications or The George Washington University