On June 22, President Donald Trump extended a near-total ban that he had first announced in April on entry into the United States by immigrants seeking “green cards” for permanent residency. This policy is the most sweeping ban on immigration in American history. Even during earlier crises, such as the Great Depression, the two world wars, and the horrific flu pandemic of 1918–19, the U.S. did not categorically ban the entry of virtually all immigrants seeking to settle here permanently. The newly expanded version of the policy also severely restricts temporary work visas.
The official justifications for these policies are the prevention of the spread of the coronavirus pandemic and the protection of American workers from wage competition. Neither rationale can justify such a sweeping restriction on immigration. Even more troubling, the order is a large-scale executive-branch power grab that sets a dangerous precedent. It makes a mockery of conservative jurists’ insistence that there are constitutional limits to the amount of authority Congress can delegate to the executive.
Although the administration’s initial ban was presented as temporary, lasting for only 60 days, many officials, led by Stephen Miller, the administration’s most influential adviser on immigration policy, would like to continue it indefinitely. On June 22, Trump extended the green-card ban until the end of the year, and expanded it to cover H-1B visas as well as other temporary-employment visas. The same reasoning that supposedly justified the initial 60-day ban has now been used to justify a much longer and more wide-ranging one that can easily be extended still further.
Among the victims are American citizens who have already waited years to be reunited with relatives who are now trapped abroad. While the measure exempts spouses and children of U.S. citizens (if the children are under the age of 21), it still bars siblings, parents, and other relatives. The administration has compounded the injustice by blocking almost all asylum applications from refugees trying to cross the border, despite the fact that such a measure violates both American and international law, which forbid the expulsion of refugees facing persecution based on race, religion, political opinions, and other similar categories in their countries of origin. Recently issued regulations also categorically deny asylum to women fleeing gender-based persecution and indefinitely extend a rule mandating the virtually automatic expulsion of unaccompanied minors crossing the border, including many fleeing horrific violence and abuse.
Combatting the coronavirus pandemic does not require a sweeping ban on immigration. Travel restrictions have done little to stop the spread of COVID-19, and the United States already has extensive domestic “community spread.” Many potential immigrants would be coming from nations where the disease is actually less widespread than it currently is in the U.S.