U.S. President Donald Trump announced Tuesday he was suspending immigration for green card seekers for 60 days amid the coronavirus pandemic. More than 20 million Americans have lost their jobs because of the deadly virus, and Trump said his latest measure, which he first announced in a tweet late Monday night, is to protect American jobs.
“By pausing immigration, we will help put unemployed Americans first in line for jobs as America reopens – so important,” Trump told reporters at a White House coronavirus briefing. “It would be wrong and unjust for Americans laid off by the virus to be replaced with new immigrant labour flown in from abroad. We must first take care of the American worker.”
The executive order which will enforce the freeze on new green cards was likely to be signed on Wednesday, Trump said, adding that the 60-day ban could be extended depending on economic conditions amid the pandemic.
The president said the new measure would apply only to those seeking green cards and not temporary workers, but he is yet to explain how those whose applications are currently being processed would be affected.
“This order will only apply to individuals seeking a permanent residency. In other words, those receiving green cards. Big factor. It will not apply to those entering on a temporary basis … We want to protect our US workers and I think, as we move forward, we will become more and more protective of them,” he said.
Nearly one million green cards are issued in the U.S. in a typical year, giving immigrants legal permanent residence and the opportunity to apply for American citizenship. The majority of these cards goes to those with relatives living in the U.S., according to a 2018 report from the U.S. Senate cited by BBC.
Since his 2016 campaign, Trump has made a crackdown on illegal migration a key priority of his presidency, and his latest move could affect millions.
To curb the spread of the coronavirus, travel bans are already in place, halting immigration, and analysts are wondering how effective the president’s latest move would be as most visa services have already been suspended because of the outbreak.
“The embassies are not open anyway, so this is like nothing new,” Carl Shusterman, who has practiced immigration law since the 1970s, was quoted by AP.
Ali Noorani, president of the National Immigration Forum, said: “President Trump’s call to suspend immigration to the US ignores the reality of our situation: the fact is that immigrants are standing shoulder to shoulder with US citizens on the frontlines helping us get through this pandemic. How many families would go without health care, food or otherwise if it wasn’t for immigrants working alongside native-born Americans yesterday, today and tomorrow?”
For the Democrats, Trump’s order is an attempt to divert attention away from his failure to stop the spread of the coronavirus that has already killed about 45,000 people in the U.S.
Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee who will face off against Trump in November’s election said: “Rather than execute a swift and aggressive effort to ramp up testing, Donald Trump is tweeting incendiary rhetoric about immigrants in the hopes that he can distract everyone from the core truth: he’s moved too slowly to contain this virus, and we are all paying the price for it.”