closing borders
closing borders

By Brett Samuels

President Trump on Monday said he will sign an executive order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States amid the coronavirus pandemic, an extraordinary move that prompted immediate questions about its timing and scope.

“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!” Trump tweeted.

The order would mark a stunning use of executive power by Trump, who hours earlier was speaking optimistically about the ability of certain states to begin reopening their economies despite the threat of the virus. It is likely to draw swift legal challenges.

The suspension of all immigration would serve as an extension on the travel restrictions the Trump administration has already imposed on most of Europe, China, Canada, Mexico and Iran.

It’s unclear if Trump made other nations aware of the decision before tweeting it out, but his past attempts to clamp down on immigration have led to chaos abroad and at U.S. airports. Trump’s tweet also did not provide details on when the suspension would go into effect or how long it would last.

Trump has spent much of his presidency pushing to restrict immigration into the U.S. He has pursued construction of a border wall, implemented policies that limit which migrants can apply for asylum and overseen the separation of families who cross into the country illegally.

The decision to suspend all immigration is sure to draw fury from Democrats and immigrant rights groups, some of whom argue the president has continued to push controversial parts of his agenda even as the coronavirus pandemic receives the bulk of public attention.

Democratic officials late Monday accused Trump of using the pandemic as justification to cater to his base with the hardline immigration policy.

“This action is not only an attempt to divert attention away from Trump’s failure to stop the spread of the coronavirus and save lives, but an authoritarian-like move to take advantage of a crisis and advance his anti-immigrant agenda. We must come together to reject his division,” tweeted Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

“Immigration has nearly stopped and the US has far more cases than any other country. This is just xenophobic scapegoating,” Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) tweeted.

“This is Trump broadcasting to the world that he is seeing erosion in his base from massively fumbling the pandemic response,” tweeted Dan Pfeiffer, a former Obama aide, in a message that was shared by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).

The move was initially met with approval by some conservatives who viewed it as a way to protect Americans facing economic hardship from the pandemic.

“22 million Americans have lost their jobs in the last month because of the China virus. Let’s help them get back to work before we import more foreigners to compete for their jobs,” tweeted Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), one of the most outspoken critics of China throughout the pandemic.

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) praised Trump for putting “American citizens first.”

Coronavirus has infected more than 2.4 million people around the world. The U.S. has by far the most confirmed cases at more than 786,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, though experts have cast doubt on China’s official total of just over 83,000 cases.

The president has in recent weeks described the U.S. as past the peak in terms of number of deaths from the pandemic, making Monday night’s announcement even more jarring. He has spoken approvingly of protesters who oppose stay-at-home orders and other measures meant to limit the spread of the virus and mused about some states lifting those restrictions quickly with an eye toward reviving the economy.

Roughly 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the last few weeks alone as the virus prompts businesses to close and states to essentially shut down. The downturn has been a blow to Trump, whose reelection campaign centered on the strength of the economy.

Trump has throughout the pandemic made political declarations or threats unrelated to the virus that have drawn outsized coverage. A week ago he played a campaign-style reel of video clips aimed at undercutting media coverage and later threatened to adjourn Congress so he could fill vacant positions with recess appointments.

The president has come under unrelenting criticism over the past few months for his handling of the coronavirus outbreak. He initially downplayed its severity for January and much of February, and the U.S. response in March was hampered by the slow rollout of testing. He has sought to shift blame for the lack of testing and other critical equipment onto governors and the previous administration.

Trump has frequently portrayed his late January decision to restrict travel from China as a courageous one that likely saved thousands of American lives. While experts have debated its net impact, the suspension of immigration entirely may not have a significant effect given the existing restrictions that are in place and the diminished international travel taking place due to the virus.

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