Remember yesterday when I said that there were still six months before the election and anything could happen? Well, last night anything did. Amid the pandemic, crashing oil futures, and rumors of Kim Jong Un’s impending death, President Trump threw fuel on the dumpster fire that is 2020 by announcing in a late-night tweet that he would issue an Executive Order to temporarily ban all immigration into the United States.
As with many Trump tweets and statements of policy, exactly what he means is unclear at this point. The president does not say whether his Executive Order will suspend all travel, travel from foreigners who want to immigrate permanently, or all foreign visitors to the United States. There is no word on how it will affect students at US universities, visa lottery winners, or people with family members who are US citizens or legal residents. The president also did not specify how long the ban would be in place.
Due to the pandemic, international travel is already highly restricted. Land borders with Canada and Mexico are closed to nonessential travel and foreign nationals from 31 countries are not being allowed into the US.
The White House did not immediately respond to questions about the announcement, a possible indication that it was a spur-of-the-moment tweet by the president. Politico reported last night that the Department of Homeland Security was still drafting the order and that it was possible that it might include a provision for temporary guest workers, including migrant farm workers.
When asked about the rationale for the sudden decision, a top DHS official said, “22 million unemployed Americans and counting due to COVID-19.”
Another Administration official told CNN that the order would suspend “some” work visas for a “temporary 120 days or so.” The official cited unemployment concerns as a reason for the ban.
It also is not clear if President Trump has the authority to unilaterally suspend immigration. The president promised a “Muslim ban” in the 2016 campaign and the Supreme Court ultimately upheld his travel ban to several countries, many of them predominantly Islamic, but the Court also struck down earlier versions of the policy. The specific nature of the Order, as well as the president’s emergency authority, will be examined closely by the courts.
With the Trump Administration promoting the idea that the pandemic is trending downward and the first states preparing to reopen, it seems odd to ban immigration at this late stage of the crisis. However, the president’s tweet and the statement from the DHS official belie that the real reason for the move is economic.
Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) confirmed this suspicion with a tweet that said, “All immigration to the United States should halt until every American who wants a job has one!”
During the 2008 economic crisis, Rahm Emanuel famously said, “Never allow a crisis to go to waste.” That seems to be what President Trump is doing here. The president has consistently opposed and restricted legal immigration throughout his term in office, the new Executive Order seems to be a typical Trump-era priority in search of a justification.
Ironically, the Order probably will not help unemployed Americans. Research shows that limiting immigration does not provide jobs for US citizens but instead limits economic growth.
“The results of the state-level analysis indicate that immigration does not increase U.S. natives’ unemployment or reduce their labor force participation,” said an economic study by the National Foundation for American Policy reported in Forbes. “Instead, having more immigrants reduces the unemployment rate and raises the labor force participation rate of U.S. natives within the same sex and education group.”
“Immigrants may boost consumer demand, start their own businesses, and reduce offshoring . . . of manual-labor intensive jobs in the U.S.” the study found, adding that, “U.S. natives tend to move into communications-intensive jobs in response to an inflow of immigrants.”
As with many Trump policies, the immigration ban will be warmly received by the president’s supporters, but probably not so much by the rest of the country. Numerous polls have shown that a large majority of Americans believe that immigration is a good thing. Indeed, the president’s unpopular policy of family separations at the border and alarmist rhetoric about migrant caravans may have played into the GOP’s 2018 midterm election losses.
The new immigration will do little to stop the spread of Coronavirus and little to boost employment. What it will do is reinforce the notion that Donald Trump and Republicans are bigots in the minds of many voters. A policy move that makes your party look racist is probably not a wise choice six months before an election. Nevertheless, Trump is going to be Trump and let the chips fall where they may.
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