President Donald Trump is pledging to impose one of the most far-reaching restrictions on immigration in modern American history, but vagueness about the policy upheaval dominated his Tuesday briefing of the pending move during the coronavirus pandemic.
Instead, the president said his executive order, which he described as a “temporary suspension of immigration” into the country, is expected to be signed on Wednesday and is planned to last for 60 days, though it could be longer. It will apply to people seeking permanent residency, Trump said, and is geared towards helping unemployed American citizens rejoin the workforce. But Trump indicated farmers would still be able to get help. And a second immigration order may come after the first.
He also wasn’t clear on what metrics he’d use to decide how long the order would last, simply saying during Tuesday’s coronavirus task force briefing that he would “look at the economy.” He made clear he could extend it beyond 60 days later on. He said that the order was still being written and would contain “certain exemptions.”
“I could roll it for 30 days, or I could roll it for much more than 60 days,” Trump said of the order’s length. “We’ll have to take a look at the time, but we’ll be looking at 60 days and we’ll see what it is.”
Trump’s reasoning for the order is tied to the “steep toll” that he says the pandemic has had on the nation’s workforce. More than 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the last month. Trump confirmed during the briefing that a secondary order was also under consideration.
“By pausing immigration we’ll help put unemployed Americans first in line for jobs as America reopens,” Trump said.
The president has often publicly fretted about the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which, at one point, led him to push a maligned—and eventually abandoned—timeline to reopen by Easter.
Yet this latest move brings immigration into the conversation at a time when Trump has grown increasingly sensitive over his administration’s maligned response to the health crisis. Trump’s obsessive focus on immigration during his 2016 presidential run, along with his controversial rhetoric on building the wall on the southern border, became one of the defining aspects of his surprise White House win.
On Tuesday, the president said it “would be wrong and unjust” for citizens who lost their jobs amid the pandemic to “be replaced with new immigrant labor flown in from abroad.”
Trump said that the “order will only apply to individuals seeking a permanent residency, in other words those receiving green cards.” Trump also claimed the pause will help conserve “vital medical resources for American citizens.”
“Right now in light of the fact that Americans are out of jobs, I can’t be taking in,” Trump said Tuesday.
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, close to 577,000 people were “granted lawful permanent residence” during the 2019 fiscal year.
Trump tried to pivot national attention back to immigration late Monday after a tense briefing in which he criticized Republican Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who has been one of the more hands-on governors during the pandemic.
“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 Monday night.
With additional reporting from Sam Stein