New Presidential Proclamation is about Politics, not Public Health

The White House issued a Presidential Proclamation on April 22, 2020 imposing limits on who can enter the U.S. due to COVID-19.   The Proclamation was widely anticipated after the President tweeted on April 20, 2020 that “I will be signing an Executive Order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States!”  The new limits are effective for 60 days, and may be extended.

The actual Presidential Proclamation falls far short of the President’s sweeping statement, particularly since it does not apply to nonimmigrants, hundreds of million of whom enter the U.S. each year.  Moreover, its immediate impact is limited, since due to COVID-19, U.S. consulates abroad had already suspended virtually all visa interviews required for immigrant visa issuance.

However, the Proclamation reveals the administration’s continued embrace of controversial immigration reforms that it has sought, but failed to achieve, since it first championed the RAISE Act in 2017.  The administration has long wanted to dramatically reduce immediate family immigration and eliminate the diversity lottery, and by targeting those categories in the Presidential Proclamation, it is setting up its ability to do so while bypassing Congress.

Additionally, the Proclamation perpetuates the myth that immigrants take jobs from U.S. citizens, when numerous studies have shown that immigrants fill complementary jobs and start businesses (that create jobs) at higher rates than native born U.S. citizens.

As this Wall Street Journal editorial (paywall) summarized:

All of which suggests that Mr. Trump’s real calculation here is political. White House adviser Stephen Miller has long wanted to shut down most immigration, legal and illegal. In the coronavirus he may have found his opening….. If they succeed, we will wake up in 2021 having defeated Covid-19 but at the high cost of a diminished economic future.

The Wall Street Journal editorial also asked “how ‘temporary’ will Mr. Trump’s immigration ban be”?   Should it continue, it would reduce annual immigration by about a third, preventing hundreds of thousands of immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and permanent residents from immigrating, and stopping the arrival of talented individuals who can help drive the U.S. economy forward.

This detailed analysis explains the potential impact.

As of 11:59 p.m. on April 23, 2020, the Presidential Proclamation suspends the following from entering the U.S. through June 23, 2020, or longer if  extended:

  • Spouses and children of permanent residents who were outside the U.S. and had not already been issued immigrant visas (94% of these family members immigrate from abroad).
  • Parents, married or over-21 year old children, and siblings of U.S. citizens who were outside the U.S. and had not already been issued immigrant visas  (the vast majority of whom immigrate from abroad).
  • Diversity lottery immigrants who were outside the U.S. and had not already been issued immigrant visas  (98% of these immigrants arrive from abroad).
  • Employment-based immigrants who were outside the U.S. and had not already been issued immigrant visas (only 15% of these immigrants arrive from abroad), with the exception of certain immigrant investors.
  • Others who had not already been issued travel documents other than immigrant visas.  This likely includes refugees, whose resettlement in the U.S. has already been cut to the lowest levels in decades.

The Presidential Proclamation does not apply to:

  • Any applicant for permanent residency  applying from within the U.S. rather than coming from abroad.   This includes the vast majority of employment-based immigrants (80% in FY 2018).
  • Spouses and unmarried children under age 21, or prospective adoptive children, of U.S. citizens.
  • Individuals returning from abroad who are already U.S. citizens or permanent residents .
  • Individuals immigrating through the EB-5 investor visa program.
  • Individuals immigrating as a “physician, nurse, or other healthcare professional; to perform medical research or other research intended to combat the spread of COVID-19; or to perform work essential to combating, recovering from, or otherwise alleviating the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak, as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their respective designees” and their spouses and minor, unmarried children.
  • Members of the U.S. military and their spouses and minor, unmarried children.
  • Certain Iraqis and Afghanis who worked as interpreters or employees of the U.S. government and their spouses and minor, unmarried children.
  • Individuals whose entry would further law enforcement objectives or national security interests, as determined by the U.S. government.
  • Nonimmigrants, including essential temporary workers such as farm workers and those working in professional and medical/healthcare fields.  The Proclamation did note that the administration may take action in the future to limit nonimmigrant entries.

By targeting hundreds of thousands of mostly immediate family and diversity lottery immigrants, but not the hundreds of millions of nonimmigrants who come to the U.S. each year, and with the already existing COVID-19 pause of most visa interviews abroad, any public health premise of this Presidential Proclamation is disingenuous.  And by pitting immigrants against U.S. workers,  the Proclamation promotes an “us” versus “them” message that is divisive and has no place in this country which has thrived from the contributions of immigrants for centuries, even through prior economic downturns.

The Presidential Proclamation should be seen for what it is: pure politics.