Following a surprise twitter announcement that shook the nation late on Monday, President Trump said he would suspend legal immigration to the US for at least two months to help Americans who have been put out of work because of the coronavirus crisis.
"It would be wrong and unjust for Americans laid off by the virus to be replaced by new immigrant labor flown in from abroad,” Trump said at a White House briefing on Tuesday evening. “We must first take care of the American worker."
The pause will be for 60 days and will apply only to individuals seeking permanent residency such as green card applicants, Trump said. He added that certain exemptions would be allowed in an executive order, which he said would be signed, “most likely” by Wednesday. “There will be some people coming in.” According to Bloomberg, agricultural laborers are exempt with Trump stating that "the farmers will not be affected by this at all."
President Trump says his immigration ban will last 60 days and after will assess any "need for any extension or modification:"— Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) April 21, 2020
"It would be wrong and unjust for Americans laid off by the virus to be replaced with new immigrant labor flown in from abroad." pic.twitter.com/v0mKes9If5
“I have determined that we cannot jump start the domestic economy if Americans are forced to compete against an artificially enlarged labor pool caused by the introduction of foreign workers,” Trump said in the draft. “I have determined that the entry of most aliens as permanent or temporary workers in the immediate term would have adverse impacts on the national interest.”
A draft of the executive order obtained earlier by by Bloomberg News, which said the suspension would last for 90 days, includes exceptions for people seeking jobs in “food production and directly helping to protect the supply chain,” which could apply to farm workers. The ban would also not apply to health care or medical research professionals, according to the draft.
Technology industry workers living in the U.S. on H-1B visas, however, would have to provide updated certifications to the government that they are not displacing American workers. Refugees and asylum seekers would not be affected by the order, nor would spouses and children of U.S. citizens or permanent residents. The draft order, which has not been finalized, frames the immigration curbs as crucial to the Trump administration’s effort to revive the economy devastated by the coronavirus pandemic, by protecting what it calls "the marginal worker."
In response to a question on Tuesday evening, Trump said he was considering a “secondary order” that would include more immigration restrictions. “I’ll be signing the primary order and then we have a secondary order that, if I want to do that, we’ll make that determination. We could that -- yeah we could do that at a little bit different time if we want.” He did not elaborate.
Trump announced the measure in a tweet late Monday. As of midday Tuesday, the White House had provided no detail, but the Justice Department is reviewing the executive order for form and legality, one department official said. The substance remains up for debate internally as does whether it applies to non-immigrant visas held by students, physicians, teachers, or researchers, among others, according to a person close to the administration, who discussed the matter on condition of anonymity.
While the White House had asked the Department of Homeland Security to begin working on a ban last week, Trump’s tweet Monday caught immigration officials off guard. Early Republican reaction was mixed, and carve-outs were already emerging, such as the abovementioned farm and agriculture workers.
Trump’s sudden announcement comes as he looks to contain the health, economic and political fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, while shuttering the economy whose strength had been the base of his campaign only two months ago. At the same time the president has been pushing to reopen the economy which is losing $25BN in output per day according to Federal Reserve estimates for every day it remains closed. Previously, Trump had cited the virus as evidence to stay the course on his agenda, by further restricting U.S. borders and pushing to manufacture more goods domestically.
According to Bloomberg, "the practical effect of the order remains unclear" as immigration agencies and embassies have already stopped processing visas, meaning many of those seeking to immigrate to or visit the U.S. cannot do so. Meanwhile,
refugee admissions have been suspended since March 19 after the United Nations and International Organizations for Migration temporarily halted refugee travel. The U.S. suspension has been extended to May 15.
While some have debated if Trump has a right to enforce such as uniform ban, a 5-4 Supreme Court decision in 2018 found that the president has sweeping authority to restrict entry into the country -- and might not even have to explain why. The ruling upheld Trump’s earlier controversial travel ban, which barred entry into the country from a group of mostly Muslim countries.
Providing further details, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, spoke to reporters Tuesday at the White House and called the suspension “a temporary issue” and said he didn’t know how long it would last. “We’ll have to wait and see. Look, we don’t know what the time horizon is going to be for the fight against this virus,” O’Brien said. “No one likes it. The president didn’t want to put travel restrictions in place, he didn’t want to put immigration restrictions in place, but we have to because of this terrible virus that’s been unleashed from foreign shores."
The president has often said the pandemic has strengthened his desire to further restrict access to the U.S., and even to manufacture certain products on home soil. Meanwhile, Congressman Joaquin Castro, a Texas Democrat and chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, wrote on Twitter that the suspension was “not only an attempt to divert attention away from Trump’s failure to stop the spread of the coronavirus and save lives, but an authoritarian-like move to take advantage of a crisis and advance his anti-immigrant agenda.”