nydailynews.com- President Trump announced Tuesday that his administration will temporarily stop issuing green cards to make sure American citizens are “first in line for jobs” amid the coronavirus crisis, a controversial move that could bar tens of thousands of immigrants from joining their families in the U.S.
In his daily COVID-19 briefing at the White House, Trump said he expects to sign an executive order Wednesday that will enforce the freeze on new green cards for 60 days.
“It would be wrong and unjust for Americans laid off by the virus to be replaced with new immigrant labor flown in from abroad,” Trump said. “We must first take care of the American worker.”
The president said he may extend the freeze beyond 60 days if the coronavirus outbreak is still hampering the U.S. economy and keeping millions of Americans locked in unemployment.
“I want the American workers and the American citizens to be able to get jobs,” he said. “I don’t want them to compete right now.”
Trump first teased the hardline order in a vague overnight tweet Monday that only said he would “suspend immigration” in light of “the attack from the Invisible Enemy.”
The order is all but certain to draw court challenges and was quickly slammed as misdirected and xenophobic by Democrats and immigration advocates.
“I am an immigrant. We are not the problem,” California Rep. Ted Lieu, who immigrated with his family from Taiwan as a child, tweeted at Trump. “Many immigrants are on the frontlines of fighting the invisible enemy as nurses, doctors, farmworkers, first responders and other essential professions. The problem is we need more testing and PPE. Please focus.”
Some details of Trump’s executive order were still unknown late Tuesday, including which green card applicants may be exempt.
In his briefing, Trump said his team were still writing the order, but promised that some exemptions will be included.
A federal official familiar with the matter said green card applicants who are spouses or children of American citizens will still be allowed to seek permanent status under the executive action.
However, nearly all other applicants would be blocked, including relatives of current green card holders or foreigners seeking permanent U.S. residency through employment, according to the official.
The direct impact of the order wasn’t immediately known.
Because of the pandemic, the government has already stopped most green card processing and that’s unlikely to change over the next 60 days. Travel to the U.S. has also been largely restricted due to the virus.
Moreover, while Trump’s order blocks the issuance of most green cards, it does not freeze temporary work visa programs, meaning plenty of immigrants will still be able to work in the U.S., including temporary farmworkers and specialized high-tech employees.
“This order will only apply for an individual seeking a permanent residency,” Trump said.
The selectiveness and vagueness of Trump’s announcement caused confusion and unease across the country, according to immigration lawyers.
“We’ve been getting calls all day from worried clients, family members, employers,” tweeted Fiona McEntee, an immigration attorney in Chicago. “Trump’s tweet served its intended purpose by creating absolute panic.”
The American Civil Liberties Union, which has successfully sued the Trump administration over immigration issues in the past, suggested the president’s order is intent on feeding red meat to his hard-right-wing base.
“Unfortunately, President Trump seems more interested in fanning anti-immigrant flames than in saving lives,” said Andrea Flores, a deputy policy director at the ACLU.
Trump’s 2016 campaign was intensely focused on curbing both legal and illegal immigration, and he has continued that agenda since taking office, including shutting down asylum programs and attempting to build a wall on the Mexican border.
Asked during Tuesday’s briefing if he was using a pandemic to expand that agenda further, Trump offered a quizzical response.
“I campaigned on people just flooding our borders,” he said.