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Trump orders 60-day immigration halt due to CV-19

Advocates, attorneys call ban a 'distraction' attempting to capitalize on 'fear' of COVID-19

With nearly 40,000 deaths in the United States due to the novel coronavirus after a delayed federal response, President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he will halt immigration to the United States for the next 60 days, blocking green card recipients from coming to the country while allowing some temporary workers to continue to arrive. 

Trump tweeted on Monday that "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!" The actual policy was still under wraps Tuesday morning as senior White House officials and attorneys met to sort out the logistics and legal implications of the president's statement, the Washington Post reported. 

"Nobody here knows what the hell he's talking about," said an official with the Department of Homeland Security in Arizona. "We're dealing with the virus, and no one in D.C. seems to want to give us a heads-up. I'll read the order when everyone else does, I guess."

"It's being written now," Trump said during a White House briefing Tuesday. "We'll most likely sign it tomorrow," he said. 

"By pausing, we'll help put unemployed Americans first in line of  jobs. It would be wrong to be replacing them with new immigrant labor flown in from abroad," he said. "We want to protect U.S. workers as we move forward," he said, later acknowledging that "some people" will be able to get in." 

"There will be some people coming in. But it's a strong order, it involves a big circle," the president said. 

"This is just another brick in the invisible wall we've been talking about for the last three years," said Mo Goldman, a Tucson immigration attorney. "For the last three years, the Trump administration has not only attempted to build a wall along the southwestern border, but has attempted to building an invisible wall through the law and restrictions to prevent immigrants from coming to the Unites States. He's definitely capitalizing on the fear of COVID-19 that people have to push his xenophobic views." 

Goldman argued that the plan would backfire creating a widespread negative on businesses and organizations, including universities that rely on foreign students, and the IT industry.

"It could effectively have more of a negative impact in our economy than a benefit," Goldman said. "Instead of rewarding immigrants who are still working in agriculture, or hospitals, and are keeping this country running and keeping people alive, he's going to scapegoat them. That's pretty much the brand." 

Goldman noted that in the last month, people have been unable get visas because U.S. embassies are closed, and many of the federal agencies responsible for processing applications are limited. At the same time, federal courts have canceled naturalization ceremonies, resulting in a large-scale shutdown of the U.S. immigration system even before Trump's tweet.   

"All this does is stoke fear  and division, at a time when we need the unity," Goldman said. 

On Monday night, after the president's tweet, TucsonSentinel.com reached out to Homeland Security, but has yet to receive a response or public statement. 

However, just after Trump made his announcement, his presidential campaign used his statements to create a "push" poll designed to raise even more money for his re-election effort, outrunning even official announcements about the policy from the various legal authorities, including U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and Homeland Security, who would be responsible for employing the new ban.

"The Trump tweet is the product of a mind that is not functioning on all cylinders," said Rachel Wilson, a Tucson immigration attorney. "Until the government issues some sort of official document explaining what he meant, we have no idea what his tweet means. Meanwhile, clients calling and emailing all day long asking what this means for their case and I have nothing I can tell them other than, 'We have to wait and see.' It is unreal how so many lives are repeatedly thrown into crisis based on one man's whims."

State Department officials told the Washington Post that they are still waiting for "guidance from the White House regarding what types of immigrant visas will be suspended." 

This follows months of continued restrictions on the U.S. immigration system, including the creation and implementation of the so-called "public charge rule" which could make immigrants who use some public services ineligible to apply for a visa or citizenship, as well as the almost complete collapse of the asylum process along the southwestern border, where U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials are returning immigrants from Central America and Mexico across the border using an expedited process. 

Last fiscal year, USCIS naturalized 834,00 people, and granted lawful permanent residence to nearly 577,000, the agency said. The agency received nearly 2.2 million employment authorization applications, and approved more than 500,000 petitions for non-immigrant workers in 2019, including specialty occupation, temporary agricultural and non-agricultural, and other workers.

Overall, green card applications declined 14 percent from a year earlier, and naturalizations declined about 12 percent, the agency said. 

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The president has broad, but not unlimited, authority to block people from coming to the United States. 

In 2017, the White House attempted to ban people from Muslim-majority countries from coming to the United States, and after three attempts to craft a travel ban that would survive a court challenge, the president succeeded, getting the ban in place after a 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018. However, while the court said that the president had broad authority to suspend the entry of foreign national groups, the ruling required that entry of barred foreign nationals would be "detrimental to the interests of the United States." 

"It means everything and it means nothing," said Jessica Rodriguez,  a coordinator for Southside Workers Center, a long-term effort hosted by the Southside Presbyterian Church. "He’s going to use COVID-19 to further his agenda to hurt migrant communities. It's mostly black, brown and immigrant communities who are on the frontlines of this disease, including people working at farms, and in the medical field. It's immigrant communities who continue to be hurt during this time, and it’s a distraction from his inaction to the virus," she said. 

"The latest announcement to suspend immigration is not a legitimate policy plan to respond to the current COVID-19 crisis," said Marketa Lindt, the president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. "At this critical time, we need to focus our time and resources on policies that spur innovation and economic growth and that promote the health and safety of the American people. A rational immigration policy is a critical component of successfully addressing our nation’s public health needs and spurring an economic recovery.”

"Unfortunately, the President’s tweet is not a surprise. In the face of growing questions and criticism about his handling of the COVID-19 crisis, it was only a matter of time before President Trump resorted to distraction, blame, and fear-mongering," said Ben Johnson, AILA's executive director. "The heroes of this crisis include the agriculture workers who have kept us fed, the healthcare workers saving lives, the scientists and researchers searching for a cure, the factory workers and truck drivers providing critical supplies." 

According to the Migration Policy Institute, about 1.5 million immigrants work in the U.S. health care system as doctors, registered nurses, and pharmacists. 

"There are measured and productive approaches to curbing the spread of COVID-19, namely ensuring equal access to testing and treatment; releasing individuals from ICE and CBP detention; and suspending interior enforcement. Unfortunately, President Trump seems more interested in fanning anti-immigrant flames than in saving lives," said Andrea Flores, deputy policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Equality Division. We cannot allow President Trump to exploit this pandemic to advance his racism and xenophobia." 

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

A woman waits with her daughter in Nogales, Sonora after they were returned to Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocols in January. That program has temporarily closed because of COVID-19.

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