By Arturo Castañares
President Donald Trump announced in a Twitter message that he will issue an executive order to temporarily suspend immigration into the US, using the COVID-19 crisis as a pretext.
The late-night social media message, sent at 10:06 pm on Sunday, referred to the dangerous disease as “the attack from the Invisible Enemy” and claimed the move was “to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens”, but offered no details of exactly what the policy will include, which countries would be included, or whether it will be a complete shutdown of immigration into the country.
No language for such an executive order has been made public yet by the White House, but on Tuesday officials said the order would be ready within a few days.
The US State Department has already suspended the issuance of new green cards and work visas during the coronavirus pandemic, so it is still unclear what this new order may provide.
One official told CNN that the order will be a “temporary 120 days or so” suspension on “some” work visas to mitigate some of the unemployment concerns related to the pandemic. The order is also expected to exempt farmworkers and health care providers, and other workers deemed “essential.”
While more than 22 million workers have already applied for unemployment benefit since the start of the crisis, many may return to work as the emergency Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) federal loans begin to provide money to companies to retain workers. The PPP requires that companies retain workers and reinstate workers in order to qualify for the loans.
This latest proposed order is similar to other actions Trump took before the COVID-19 crisis, including blocking asylum seekers from entering the US while their cases are pending, and also allowing Border Patrol SWAT to help ICE enforce civil removal orders on undocumented immigrants facing deportation.
Critics argue that the move is another political stunt by Trump in an attempt to appear to be taking strong actions during the COVID019 crisis, but that the impact of such an order may be exaggerated, much like Trump’s claims he stopped air travel from China and Europe at the start of the crisis.
Trump’s limits on air travel from China only banned foreign nationals who had traveled to infected areas of China from entering the US, but it exempted US citizens, dependents, and government officials, and also specifically exempted travelers from Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan.
It is estimated that over 40,000 individuals entered the US from China after the restrictions were put in place.
The flight limitations that Trump calls a “total ban on Europe” included 26 countries, but specifically exempted the United Kingdon and Ireland, as well as Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania. Critics pointed out that the UK and Ireland had more COVID-19 cases at the time than all of the banned European countries, but that Trump has golf resorts in England and Ireland.
Within a few weeks, the UK and Ireland were added to the restrictions. Again, as with China, the restrictions did not include US citizens, dependents, and government officials. It is estimated that thousands of travelers still entered the US after having been in European countries included in the restrictions by first flying to England or other non-restricted countries.