President Donald Trump’s executive order applies to people seeking permanent residency in the United States, but not guest agricultural workers or people in the health care sector.
WASHINGTON (CN) — President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that he, through a new executive order, will halt the issuance of most green cards in the United States, a maneuver that could further disrupt life for hundreds of thousands of people as the coronavirus pandemic continues to roil the nation.
“It would be wrong and unjust for Americans unemployed from the virus to be flown in from abroad. We must first take care of the American worker,” Trump said before a small group of reporters gathered in the White House for the administration’s regular coronavirus nightly task force briefing.
Trump also claimed the “short break” on new immigration would protect the solvency of the American health care system.
Green cards, more formally known as permanent resident cards, allow immigrants to permanently live and work in the U.S.
The ban on green cards will go into effect for 60 days and will be reassessed at that point to determine whether any “extensions or modifications” are needed, Trump said. The ban will not apply to those immigrants entering the country on a temporary basis.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services last year issued green cards to just over 840,000 people and according to Trump, the executive order issued Tuesday night would apply to some, but not all, of those individuals.
According to the Johns Hopkins University tracker, as of Tuesday night the novel coronavirus has infected more than 810,000 people in the United States and killed over 43,000.
Andrea Flores, deputy policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the president is exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to advance his “racism and xenophobia” instead of taking proactive measures to mitigate problems versus amplifying them.
“There are measured and productive approaches to curbing the spread of Covid-19, namely ensuring equal access to testing and treatment, releasing individuals from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Patrol detention; and suspending interior enforcement,” Flores said.
Several border restrictions are already in place because of the coronavirus. At the nation’s southern and northern borders, non-essential travel has been restricted since mid-March and immigrants seeking visas at the U.S.-Mexico border have been turned away for weeks. Visas have not been processed by the State Department routinely for the last month, and throughout the world the virus has prompted governments to shutter borders to stem the spread.
Details of the executive order, which is unprecedented, had been shrouded in the run-up to Tuesday night’s briefing.
The president tweeted his intent to sign the executive order late Monday. When facing questions Tuesday about the specifics on restrictions for green card applicants, Trump punted.
“It will have certain exemptions and we will be notifying you tomorrow. It is being drawn up now and tonight and it’s something we have to have in this country,” he said.
When asked whether he felt the plan to stop legal immigration jived with his administration’s push to “reopen” the economy, Trump said he was confident it was the right move.
“I think it’s really strong. It’s countrywide, as opposed to specifically like China. You’re going to see a very accurate definition after its completed by the attorneys,” Trump said.
The executive order provides an opening for Trump to continue his administration’s push to tighten immigration in the country, potentially indefinitely. Reporters asked Trump Tuesday what criteria would need to be triggered to resume green card processing.
“We have to see. I hope we’re in that position to have that debate. Right now we closed down the largest economy, the greatest economy in the history of the world,” Trump said. “That’s a debate we should have.”
A secondary order is also under consideration, Trump said, but did not share details beyond that.
Farmers will not be affected at all, Trump said, seeming to confirm widespread reports that green cards will continue to be issued for agricultural workers. It has also been reported that health care professionals and medical workers will also be excluded from the ban.
On the virus, Dr. Deborah Birx, immunologist and White House taskforce coordinator, said Tuesday that there are major improvements occurring in case rates in several major cities.
Detroit is seeing a significant decline while New Orleans is “nearly back to its baseline,” Birx said.
Chicago and Boston also appear to be flattening, as are Philadelphia, Houston and areas around Atlanta. But in Washington, D.C., Trump’s own backyard, Birx said rates remain steady.
“When we put out the guidelines, it was very clear: use data and work together to mitigate against any resurgence. What we’re seeing across rural America and small population states, we’re still seeing outbreaks in long-term care facilities,” she said.
People who continue to visit family in these particularly vulnerable sites must observe the social distancing guidelines now and understand the measures are meant to preserve the resources of health care workers and hospitals who have been beleaguered for nearly three months straight.
The American death toll will continue to rise in the coming days and weeks because that data tends to lag.
“And no matter what city we have been in, [health care workers] have not been able to see the relief we talk about because of the delay in hospitalizations and deaths,” she said.