Donald Trump’s across-the-board “suspension” of permanent legal immigration to the United States shows there is nothing to which this president won’t stoop to deflect responsibility for his gross mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic. Scapegoating immigrants is just the latest ploy.
Cutting legal immigration to as close to zero as possible has been the goal of Trump and anti-immigrant extremists in his White House like Stephen Miller since day one. Doing so by executive order is a shameless abuse of a national public health emergency to accomplish that goal. It would also be unprecedented in modern U.S. history – an action not taken by presidents during two world wars nor the 1918 flu pandemic.
A moratorium on legal immigration has nothing to do with protecting American workers and everything to do with catering to Trump’s base voters. It would have little practical impact since the issuance of new visas of all types has all but stopped due to the worldwide shut down of U.S. consular functions since March. Already, legal immigration is down sharply due to these obstacles as well as fear of contagion, as the U.S. became the pandemic’s epicenter.
Trump’s Evidence-Free Policymaking
This is a striking illustration of the president’s evidence-free approach to policymaking. Decades of research have shown that immigrants and native-born workers are complements to each other in the labor market, not competitors. Justifying his immigration shutdown, Trump turned this large body of research on its head, claiming, “Decades of record immigration have produced lower wages and higher unemployment for our citizens.”
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 21, 2020
The research clearly shows that immigrants do not compete against U.S.-citizen workers for the same jobs, in the same businesses, industries, and places. In fact, they help to create more jobs for U.S.-born workers by enabling companies to grow more rapidly and flexibly.
Employers hit by COVID-19 shutdowns want to hire back the trained, experienced workers they have had to furlough. They have no incentive to replace them with “workers flown in from foreign countries,” as Trump put it.
The idea that our economy’s recovery from COVID-19 shutdowns will be aided by blocking employers’ access to foreign labor is delusional. In fact, it would be counter-productive, making it more likely that small businesses will fail, with more jobs formerly held by American workers disappearing permanently. Moreover, millions of our small businesses are immigrant-owned, and they provide employment for U.S.-born as well as immigrant workers.
Patchwork of Exemptions
A patchwork of exemptions to Trump’s immigration ban – like temporary agricultural workers, medical professionals, and researchers – also makes no sense.
Immigrants are needed to perform a much broader range of essential functions, from home health aides to grocery store stocking and cleaning workplaces and public spaces, tasks that have become even more essential and riskier during the pandemic. Immigrants are also disproportionately represented among front-line hospital workers struggling to cope with the pandemic and the transportation services needed to supply them with vital equipment.
Immigrants who are naturalized U.S. citizens and green-card holders have a legal right to petition for visas for immediate relatives. Employers have a right to seek skills-based visas for immigrant workers. Asylum-seekers are entitled by U.S. law and international agreements to a chance to make their case for protection. There is nothing in our current situation that justifies suspending these rights.
Trump’s “temporary suspension” of permanent legal immigration opportunities – likely to be extended indefinitely by subsequent executive orders – certainly will be challenged in the courts. But the message it sends is as damaging as the policy itself.
It is inconsistent with America’s values as a country. It gratuitously insults hard-working immigrants, telling them that their labor is not needed and that they threaten Americans’ livelihoods.
It reinforces the fear in immigrant families and communities that Trump administration policies have sown by ramping up immigration arrests in the midst of a pandemic, a business-as-usual approach that endangers general public health by making immigrants more hesitant to call out unsafe working conditions, seek COVID-19 testing, and get medical attention if they become symptomatic.
This is a hateful, xenophobic message that damages America’s economic interests and public health in pursuit of Trump’s reelection. It sacrifices human capital that will be needed to rebuild the economy once the pandemic ends, and, given the U.S.’ collapsing birth rate, for much longer.
The immediate human carnage – upending the lives of hundreds of thousands of families who have spent years trying to reunify themselves in the United States – doesn’t seem to matter.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.