The President’s brand is about putting Americans first—or in his parlance, “making America great again.” This particularly applies to Americans who were left behind by the previously-thriving American economy, the country’s path towards globalism, and the changing culture in cities across the U.S. In a sudden shift, those concerns were eclipsed (and exacerbated) by the need to care for the health and economic security of Americans during the pandemic. But by most accounts, approval of the administration’s response to COVID-19 is low, even among some Republicans. The administration’s issuing of yet another ban on immigration, therefore, reads as an attempt to divert attention from COVID-19, and try to signal to Americans that the President hasn’t forgotten them. But it won’t provide any real relief for those suffering across our nation.
To date, the U.S. economy has wiped out all the job gains made since the Great Recession, with unemployment topping 26 million in just five weeks. Teed off with a tweet, the President responded to the dismal numbers by issuing an executive order on April 22, 2020, suspending the entry of immigrants for 60 days who—President Trump claimed—would present a risk to the labor market during the coming COVID-19 economic recovery (whenever that may be).
It is important for the President of the United States to acknowledge the very real concerns that Americans face: that is, the potential loss of jobs and homes, the challenges in providing for our families, and–above all–fears of falling ill or dying. Americans are concerned about their health and their economic well being. We all feel helpless in the face of a global pandemic with no modern parallel.
At the same time, more and more Americans don’t feel like the President is doing enough to assuage their fears, and to provide comfort and empathy. That makes the timing of the executive order suspicious. And that’s why the President (again) played his hallmark card—scapegoating immigrants—in an effort to distract Americans from the fact that the economy is tanking and people are dying and the light at the end of the tunnel is dim (for now).
Blocking immigrants through policy-by-tweet fails to recognize the role that immigrants play in our economy, and specifically, in the increasingly stressed healthcare and essential services sectors. The truth is that thousands of American lives have likely been saved in the past weeks by immigrant physicians. Twenty-nine percent of physicians in the U.S. are immigrants; 16 percent of nurses are immigrants; and 14 percent of respiratory therapists are immigrants. While the new prohibition may not directly impact our immigrant health care workers, it certainly chills the future interest of immigrants in coming to the U.S.
Furthermore, immigration has been shut down for weeks for most intents and purposes. The U.S. has already closed its doors to visitors, tourists, and nonimmigrants across the world. The Department of State has also already suspended regular visa processing, and canceled all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments, effectively prohibiting any new authorized immigrants to travel to the United States. A few weeks ago, the U.S. also closed both our northern and southern borders to all tourists or visitors from Canada and Mexico. Asylum-seekers who present themselves to U.S. border authorities are turned away. Unaccompanied alien children, who are not subject to immediate deportation under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008, are also reportedly being detained and sent back to their home countries under a CDC directive. Other undocumented individuals that cross the border are simply asked to turn around.
All of these policy changes pre-date the most recent order.
The new executive order will block some individuals from getting green cards over the next 60 days. However, the president exempted spouses, minor children, health care professionals, members of the U.S. armed forces and their families, those seeking investor visas or special immigrant visas, and anyone entering for law enforcement or national security purposes.
Of course, the order will leave stranded abroad family members of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, and will shut down the diversity program for two months. Ultimately, this order will impact the reunification of families for at least two months, although the real effect will likely delay visa issuances for much longer. There will also be permanent effects on the foreign-born, because numerical limitations on visas will not roll over to next year, which necessitates future discussions about how to offset those impacts during recovery.
The harm of these policies broadly extends beyond the future of individual visa holders. Families will inevitably have to choose to overstay their visas or endanger public health by violating social distancing in departing. When recovery can finally start, businesses and teams that relied on the talents of these individuals will be handicapped. Worse yet, these policies will in no way allow for Americans to recover from the economic impacts of the crisis more quickly than before—they will most likely slow them.
In reality, the Trump administration has advanced the same policies it has been trying to implement for years. It’s politicking at its worst, but it’s also a move that will be sure to cripple our ability to help our country get out of this crisis in one piece. We must first adhere to the guidelines articulated by our health experts—even when that means that immigrants may suffer—but we must also recognize opportunities to allow immigration policy to benefit Americans and immigrants.
At times it can feel convenient to blame others for our suffering. Ultimately, however, COVID-19 is a force that can withstand the kind of withering attack from this administration that has crippled so many foes. Scapegoating immigrants for the pandemic will drive a wedge between people in the U.S. who are together dedicated to accomplishing one goal: getting America back on its feet and running towards recovery. When America works together, we are stronger, and everyone must be a part of our recovery.