The executive order calls for a 60-day ban on new green card arrivals, but it might exempt farm workers, medical personnel.
President Donald Trump’s announcement late Monday, via Twitter, that he wants to suspend immigration to the United States during the coronavirus pandemic was widely condemned across liberal Southern California, but praised among Republicans and conservatives as a necessary step to protect Americans.
The pending executive order scapegoats immigrants and is nothing more than a ploy to exploit the global crisis to further the president’s anti-immigrant agenda while helping his upcoming re-election bid, critics said Tuesday.
“The vicious, divisive president chooses to pick on his favorite scapegoat — immigrants,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.
In his announcement, Trump said his proposed executive order would ban all immigration to the United States during the pandemic. On Tuesday, administration officials offered some detail, saying it would stop immigration for 60 days, including a freeze on incoming green card holders who are legal permanent residents. The executive order, which was still being written Tuesday night, is expected to exempt immigrants in certain essential industries, such as health care and agriculture, according to news reports.
“By pausing, we’ll help put unemployed Americans first in line for jobs,” the president said during a White House briefing Tuesday. “It would be wrong to be replacing them with new immigrant labor flown in from abroad.”
To conservatives like Robin Hvidston in the Inland Empire, the idea makes sense – as both a way to help 22 million unemployed Americans and to prevent people who may have the virus from coming into the U.S.
“I’m elated. We have so many Americans unemployed right now. This will give a greater advantage to American citizens,” said Hvidston, who heads a group against illegal immigration called We the People Rising.
“It also seems like a good policy, health-wise,” because potential immigrants in countries with poor health systems might arrive sick in the United States, she added.
The United States has more reported coronavirus cases and more deaths than any other nation. The U.S. also appears to be exporting the virus. At least 44 migrants deported to Guatemala last week tested positive, according to CNN, and Guatemala’s health minister has since called the U.S. “the Wuhan of the Americas.”
Meanwhile, immigration experts note that much of the country’s immigration system is already shut down due to the coronavirus.
“In practical terms, it’s happening already,” said Ally Bolour, a Los Angeles immigration attorney and board member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
Most consulate and embassy offices abroad are closed and the State Department has temporarily suspended processing routine visas. The Trump administration has also restricted travel from China and Europe and closed the borders with Canada and Mexico for all nonessential travel, among other temporary suspensions.
Still, even if some of these actions are already a done deal, Bolour said the message in Trump’s tweet was troubling.
“He just finally admitted what he’s been wanting to do. That was shocking. To get an admission from the president that he wants to shut down immigration altogether, and he’s using a public health emergency to do it,” Bolour said.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association condemned what it called a “divisive presidential tweet.”
“In the face of growing questions and criticism about his handling of the COVID-19 crisis, it was only a matter of time before President Trump resorted to distraction, blame, and fear mongering,” said Ben Johnson, the association’s executive director.
But others don’t see it that way. At a time when the economy has come to a halt and people across California and other parts of the nation are being asked to stay home, they said it’s reasonable to pause immigration.
“Right now, when we’re facing this unprecedented moment in the country and the world… we need to be able to effectively mitigate and contain (the cases) we have,” said Randall Avila, executive director for the Republican Party of Orange County.
“This is 100 percent about mitigation, containment and getting back to normalcy as soon as we can,” he said.
Once life is back to normal, he continued, that will include “going back to normal immigration patterns and procedures.”