US President Donald Trump said he will sign an executive order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States, saying he needs to protect American jobs as coronavirus ravages the economy.
The move, announced in a late-night post on Twitter, effectively achieves a long-term Trump policy goal to curb immigration, making use of the health and economic crisis that has swept the country as a result of the pandemic to do so.
“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 said on Monday.
He offered no details as to what immigration programmes might be affected by the order. The White House did not immediately elaborate on Trump’s announcement.
The development is the latest in a string of moves cracking down on immigration as the coronavirus spreads in the United States.
The US has by far the world’s largest number of confirmed coronavirus cases, with more than 42,000 deaths and 774,000 infections on Monday.
In late March, Trump said the US would swiftly return any migrants who attempted to cross into the country from Mexico and Canada. He argued migrants crossing the border threatened to worsen the US’s coronavirus outbreak.
Monday’s decision drew swift condemnation from some Democrats, who accused the president of creating a distraction from what they view as a slow and faulty response to the coronavirus.
‘Things so dire’
Al Jazeera’s John Hendren, reporting from the US city of Chicago, said the latest move was “fully in character” for Trump.
“Remember, he imposed a ban on immigration from Muslim countries. That was overturned by a court and later modified. This is also president who has made ‘stopping illegal immigration’ a major theme of his presidency. He’s said he will build a wall to keep out illegal immigrants,” he said.
“But in this case, he’s stopping legal immigration and it will likely be challenged. It also sends a mixed message. He’s been saying all along that things are getting better, that the number of coronavirus cases is slowing, that the US is getting ready to open up for business, and now all of a sudden, he appears to be saying things are so dire that we need to halt all immigration.”
For weeks now, the US State Department has suspended almost all visa processing, including immigrant visas.
The US economy has come to a near standstill because of the pandemic. More than 22 million people applied for unemployment benefits in the last month.
Critics denounced Trump’s move.
“You cut off immigration, you crater our nation’s already weakened economy,” former Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro said in a tweet. “What a dumb move.”
The president has made a point of saying the coronavirus peak had passed and has been encouraging US states to reopen their economies.
“As our country battles the pandemic, as workers put their lives on the line, the President attacks immigrants & blames others for his own failures,” former Democratic presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar said in a tweet.
Thomas Homan, Trump’s former acting director of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, defended the president’s decision.
“It makes sense to protect opportunities for our workforce while this pandemic plays out,” said Homan. “It’s really not about immigration. It’s about the pandemic and keeping our country safer while protecting opportunities for unemployed Americans.”