Trump issues narrow order suspending immigration amid pandemic

Order halts some immigration for 60 days and contains broad exceptions

President Donald Trump’s immigration order will mainly affect people seeking residency from abroad. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
President Donald Trump’s immigration order will mainly affect people seeking residency from abroad. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted April 22, 2020 at 8:42pm

President Donald Trump signed a proclamation Wednesday that bars the entry of certain immigrants hoping to move to the United States on a permanent basis. 

He told reporters the two-month suspension would “ensure that unemployed Americans of all backgrounds will be first in line for jobs as our economy reopens.” 

But the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute said that 80 percent of the people affected by the ban would be coming to join family members in the United States and only 7 percent would be people who may be coming to take new jobs.

Trump announced the latest ban in a late-night tweet Monday, saying that it would “suspend immigration,” but providing few details of what the order might entail and whom exactly it may affect. The actual order turned out much narrower, applying only to certain categories of people hoping to move to the United States to join families or take up job offers. However, it may still affect tens of thousands of people and hits at the core of the American immigration system, which centers around family reunification.

The order suspends, for at least 60 days, the entry of people who are currently abroad and do not already have an immigrant visa or another type of travel authorization to move permanently to the United States. It does not apply to people who are already in the United States or who are transitioning their immigration status to that of a permanent resident. 

Even among immigrant applicants abroad, the order carves out several key exemptions. It does not apply to people who already have green cards or to spouses and children of U.S. citizens. Parents of U.S. citizens, however, are not mentioned in the list of exemptions. 

It also excludes people who intend to move to the country to work in U.S. law enforcement, the armed forces, or in health care or other professions deemed “essential” during the pandemic, along with their immediate family members in some cases.

The order also does not bar wealthy investors who come through the EB-5 investor visa program and beneficiaries of the Special Immigrant Visa. The latter allows people in special circumstances, such Afghan and Iraqi nationals who may have helped the U.S. government and armed forces in some capacity, to come and settle in the United States. 

Julia Gelatt, senior policy analyst at MPI, estimated that the order could affect 52,000 people over the 60-day period under normal processing circumstances. Foreign office closures and interview suspensions due to the pandemic have already slowed down processing.

If the order is allowed to stand further — say, for a year — it could block an estimated 358,000 people, reducing immigration by 33 percent, according to an analysis by Boundless Immigration, a technology company that helps immigrants obtain green cards and citizenship.

“If this policy is in effect for a period of years, then it is certain to favor immigrants from Western Europe relative to other regions of the world, since they are more likely to be exempt,” according to the analysis. The organization’s co-founder, Doug Rand, was an assistant director for entrepreneurship in the Obama administration’s Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Trump’s tweet on Monday initially raised concern that his order might also target certain temporary workers who come on “nonimmigrant visas,” such as health care workers, tech employees and agricultural workers. While this order doesn’t do that, it directs administration officials to “review nonimmigrant programs” and recommend “other measures appropriate to stimulate the United States economy and ensure the prioritization, hiring, and employment of United States workers.” 

Immigration advocates reacted strongly to the release of the order.

“The rhetoric accompanying this new order is right out of a demagogue’s playbook — blaming immigrants for an economic depression caused by a pandemic and the US’s deadly mishandling of its response,” tweeted Charanya Krishnaswami, advocacy director for the Americas at Amnesty International USA. “We are all less safe because of it.”

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