Declaring a need to "protect our great American workers", the US president told the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing on Wednesday that immigration to the coronavirus-struck US will be temporarily suspended to "ensure that unemployed Americans of all backgrounds will be first in line for jobs" when the pandemic-induced restrictions ease up across the country.
Fully signed and ready to go! https://t.co/MdpgII3kuq— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 23, 2020
As Jo Jakobsen, political science and international relations professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, has put it, while immigration is a “consistent element in the Trump ideology”, the pandemic hands POTUS “a convenient window of opportunity to further his policy".
“The closing of borders is now, worldwide, considered quite natural and necessary, which surely impacts immigration in the short to medium term", the academic explained, admitting though that while it’s more or less clear with the short term, “the big question has to do with the longer term".
“What is probably perceived by many as an understandable emergency measure can easily end up being permanent, especially if Mr Trump gets re-elected", the commentator further elaborated, adding that the hurting US economy would facilitate this.
The expert believes that what could ensue is “a trial of strength” between the president’s executive powers and those who can challenge the president’s policy through the judiciary system.
“But my expectation is that the COVID-19 crisis, especially as it is coupled with other forces working in the same direction, will lead to a permanent reversal of economic globalisation and immigration – both in and beyond America", the professor summed up.
Trump concurrently remains focused on the upcoming election, so that the immigration freeze can be seen as “a diversionary” measure “to get some relief from the huge focus on the administration’s management or mismanagement of the COVID-19 crisis".
So, apart from creating a window of opportunity, the ongoing crisis enables Trump to “almost monopolise" the day-to-day political debate as he is largely seen as the one in charge of the country’s battle with the pandemic, which will continue to be a tough challenge for POTUS, Jakobsen concluded.
Trump’s order puts a special emphasis on job security for "Americans of all backgrounds", noting that "historically disadvantaged groups, including African Americans and other minorities, those without a college degree" and individuals who are disabled have been disproportionately impacted as the "first in" when the economy thrives and "first out" in times of economic downturn. Exceptions are being made for those married to US citizens as well as individuals applying for investor programme visas and healthcare-related entry permits.
The administration reserves the right to extend the suspension period beyond the stated 60 days, upon consultations with senior White House officials in charge of labour and immigration.
As the pandemic rages on, the US has seen over 842,600 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 46,785 related deaths, as of 22 April, per Johns Hopkins University statistics.