President Trump’s 60-day pause is being implemented to limit competition for U.S. jobs as recovery from the coronavirus pandemic begins. Before the outbreak, the administration had planned to increase the number of H-2B visas, but the Department of Homeland Security put that on hold in early April. The wording of the order for the green-card pause leaves open the possibility that it could be extended. About one million people were granted green cards in 2019.
President Donald Trump announced April 21 he will be placing a 60-day pause on the issuance of certain immigration green cards in an effort to limit competition for jobs in a U.S. economy wrecked by the coronavirus, The Associated Press reported.
“To protect American workers I will be issuing a temporary suspension of immigrating into the United States,” Trump said at a White House briefing after tweeting about the order April 20.
Trump said that the move would not impact those in the country on a temporary basis and would apply only to those looking for green cards in hopes of staying, The AP reported. An administration official familiar with the plans had said earlier the order would be focused on preventing people from winning permission to live and work in the U.S. That would include those seeking employment-based green cards and relatives of green card holders who are not citizens. Americans who wish to bring immediate family to the country would still be able to do so, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity before the plan was announced. About one million people were granted green cards last year.
While a hard stop on immigration would normally affect millions of people, much of the immigration system has already ground to a halt because of the pandemic. Almost all visa processing by the State Department has been suspended for weeks, The AP reported. Travel to the U.S. has been restricted from much of the globe. And Trump has used the virus to effectively end asylum at U.S. borders, including turning away children who arrive by themselves and putting a hold on refugee resettlement—something Congress, the courts and international law hadn’t previously allowed.
Criticism of Trump’s new announcement was swift, especially his timing during the pandemic, The AP reported. Ali Noorani, president of the National Immigration Forum, noted that thousands of foreign-born health care workers are currently treating people with COVID-19 and working in critical sectors of the economy.
Andrea Flores of the American Civil Liberties Union told The AP Trump seemed “more interested in fanning anti-immigrant flames than in saving lives.”
But Jessica Vaughn, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors lower rates of immigration, said that eliminating millions of work permits and visas would “instantaneously create” new jobs for Americans and other legal workers—even though most businesses are shuttered because of social distancing dictates and stay-at-home orders, The AP reported.
As is often the case, Trump’s late-night tweet caught many across the administration off-guard, The AP reported. Though ideas had been discussed at the State and Homeland Security departments, officials said they had received no heads-up that action was coming.
In a statement, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany described the order as aimed at protecting both the “health and economic well-being of American citizens as we face unprecedented times.” She said, “At a time when Americans are looking to get back to work, action is necessary.”
Though travel restrictions around the globe have dramatically reduced immigration, Trump could have used his executive authority to restrict it further, including slashing the number of foreign workers allowed to take seasonal jobs in the U.S., The AP reported. Before the outbreak, the administration had planned to increase the number of H-2B visas, but the Department of Homeland Security put that on hold in early April.
Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, said Trump could end the processing of immigrant and non-immigrant visa applications under the same legal authority he used to impose the travel ban that was upheld by the Supreme Court, The AP reported. But she said the State Department has largely stopped processing visas anyway.
Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, who met with Trump at the White House April 21, said the president was looking at various carve-outs for people like agricultural workers, medical professionals and people with family in the United States pose,” he told The AP.
Across the country, those who could be impacted waited in suspense. Chicago immigration attorney Fiona McEntee said she has been inundated with calls, e-mails and social media messages since Trump’s tweet, including from company executives hoping to expand their business in the U.S., a person applying for a fiance visa and wondering about their wedding plans, artists seeking “extraordinary ability” visas and foreign students, The AP reported.
“It has created absolute panic,” said McEntee. “These are people’s lives. … It is irresponsible and cruel to put out something like that without any consideration.”
Given the steps Trump has already taken, Mexico Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said it was unclear what more he could do, The AP reported. Last month, the administration effectively ended asylum, relying on a rarely used 1944 law aimed at preventing the spread of communicable disease. U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada have also been closed to tourism and recreational travel. Commercial traffic and a wide range of “essential” workers are still allowed to travel freely.
The H-2B visa program is used by U.S. companies to fill tens of thousands of seasonal jobs in areas like landscaping, seafood processing and in-service jobs at hotels and theme parks. In March, amid pressure by Congress and a tight job market, the administration raised the annual quota to its highest level under Trump, The AP reported. That move angered people who favor more restrictive immigration policies, including some supporters of the president who view foreign workers willing to accept lower wages as unfair competition to American labor.
While the order falls short of an outright ban on legal immigration to the U.S., as Trump initially suggested, it stands to affect thousands of people overseas seeking to come to the country, CNN reported.
People outside of the United States seeking to legally migrate to the U.S., with some exceptions, CNN reported. The Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, estimates that the order would block around 26,000 green cards monthly or 52,000 over the 60-day period it’s in effect.
It’s important to note, though, that the pandemic has already largely cut off immigration to the United States: countries have put border restrictions in place, visa services have been suspended, and refugee admissions are on pause, among other changes.
The order doesn’t apply to spouses and minor children of US citizens; health care professionals; any member of the US Armed Forces and their spouses and children; and anyone entering for law enforcement or national security reasons, CNN reported. It also doesn’t apply to investor visas and special immigrant visas for Iraqi and Afghan nationals who’ve worked for the U.S. government.
Over the course of recent weeks, the Trump administration has made sweeping changes to the U.S. immigration system, citing the coronavirus pandemic, CNN reported. In a little over a month, there have been more than a dozen changes to the system, ranging from postponing immigration hearings to pausing deportation flights to certain countries to swiftly removing migrants arrested at the border and suspending refugee admissions. The changes to the system are being made incrementally, though rapidly.
Against the backdrop of the outbreak, the administration has also pressed forward with some of its most restrictionist policies, including largely closing off the southern border to migrants and immediately expelling them, CNN reported.
The order will be in effect for 60 days, but the text leaves the possibility of an extension on the table, CNN reported.
“Whenever appropriate, but no later than 50 days from the effective date of this proclamation, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Labor, recommend whether I should continue or modify this proclamation,” the order reads.
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