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Trump Issues Suspension on Immigration in Response to COVID-19

President Trump issued a surprise Executive Order in April, suspending certain kinds of legal immigration to the United States for a 60-day period in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The Executive Order, issued on April 22, effectively placed a pause on the processing of most green-card applications, as a means of protecting American jobs.

“In light of the attack from the Invisible Enemy, as well as the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens, I will be signing an Executive Order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States!” Trump stated in a late-night tweet on April 20 which announced the suspension.

The order offers exemptions for particular kinds of immigrants, including those that hold permanent resident status, health care professionals with an immigration visa, immigrants that are members of the United States Armed Forces and immediate family members of individuals with citizenship status. 

The president clarified in a White House press conference on April 21 that the immigration suspension would “not apply to those entering [the country] on a temporary basis,” referencing the continuation of particular guest worker programs that provide specific visas for workers such as technology workers and farm laborers.

Despite recent studies that have found little to no adverse effect of immigration on citizen unemployment, Trump continued to argue that halting immigration would lessen competition in the job market for American citizens that have lost their jobs due to the economic impact of COVID-19 when the country ultimately begins reopening.

“By pausing immigration, we’ll help put American citizens first in line for jobs as America reopens,” Trump said. “It would be wrong and unjust for Americans laid off by the virus to be replaced with new immigrant labor flown in from abroad.”

Trump has received substantial backlash from individuals on both sides of the political aisle — some have argued that the move was misguided and motivated by an anti-immigrant sentiment, while others have argued that the suspension does not go far enough.

“This is both a political act to demagogue and distract from his awful handling of the COVID-19 crisis and lack of testing,” Todd Schlute, president of immigration advocacy group FWD.us, said to the New York Times. “It is also a policy effort by hard-liners to use this crisis to enact their awful, decades-old wish to radically slash immigration.”

“Under normal conditions there would be extended debate and back and forth, but under this emergency some of those things will get through with less scrutiny,” David Lapan, a former spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security under the Trump Administration, told the New York Times.

Other critics of the suspension claim that reactionary changes to immigration policy at this stage of the virus will not stop the spread of the virus since it is already here.

The United States has approximately 1,256,771 confirmed cases of COVID-19 nationwide, according to Johns Hopkins — far surpassing countries like Spain and Italy who have a number of confirmed cases in the low 200,000’s.

“On a per capita basis we’re doing better than many other countries, but COVID-19 is here and halting immigration now won’t change that,” Alex Nowrasteh, director of Immigration studies for the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, said in an op-ed.

California has a prominent immigrant population. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, the state is home to nearly 11 million individuals from countries primarily in Latin America and Asia. 

Given this large population, many in the state are concerned that the suspension will lengthen delays in obtaining permanent residency status despite having waited for years.

“When you’ve got people waiting for family reunification, it is going to impact them because they’ve been already waiting in line for ten, fifteen years,” Tammy Kim, managing director of the Korean American Center in Irvine, said to the LAist.

While the executive order is set to expire after a 60-day period, the administration has made it clear that this could change given the condition of the economy.

“We’ll examine what additional immigration related measures will be put in place to protect U.S. workers … as we move forward, we will become more and more protective of them,” Trump said.

Danielle Dawson is a Staff Writer. She can be reached at dmdawson@uci.edu.