Despite a push from President Donald Trump to move past the pandemic, the administration is continuing to usher forward immigration measures, citing the outbreak and its toll on the economy.
One of the key figures behind the push to limit immigration is Stephen Miller, Trump’s lead immigration adviser and the architect of the President’s hardline immigration agenda. In April, Trump signed an executive order barring some immigration to the US after teasing an outright ban on immigration to the country. Trump argued that the order was needed to protect American jobs.
Against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, the administration has pressed forward with a series of immigration measures that, prior to coronavirus, had struggled to break through. Among those changes is the closure of the southern border to migrants, including those seeking asylum, unless certain conditions are met.
After the President’s April proclamation, Miller cast the move as a first step toward reducing the flow of immigrants coming into the United States. That proclamation set up deadlines for review, one of which is approaching this weekend, and left the possibility open for its extension or modification.
The economic argument is expected to be raised again in an anticipated expansion or new immigration executive order. While Trump has touted recent job numbers, unemployment numbers remain high — though businesses have said in a series of letters to the President that continued immigration is important for economic recovery.
Interest groups, businesses and experts are fighting any new restrictions, saying that visas allowing immigrants to temporarily work in the US are critical to the economy.
“Why would he want to cut off critical workforce that will help the economy recover?” said Greg Chen, director of government relations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
“It’s not a rational or reasonable approach to the stated goals of what they’re trying to achieve, which only points to the underlying purpose of effectuating the President’s campaign goals of cutting off immigration,” Chen added.
Trump pledged the previous order would “ensure that unemployed Americans of all backgrounds will be first in line for jobs as our economy reopens.”
The White House did not immediately comment for this story.
CNN previously reported that Trump’s political advisers view the immigration steps as motivating for his base supporters at a moment when the President’s key election message — a strong economy — is badly weakened by the pandemic.
Legal immigration, which has already taken a hit during the outbreak, is again in focus in deliberations about an anticipated immigration executive order.
A slate of visas, which allow immigrants to temporarily work in the US, are under consideration to be suspended for a period time, including L-1 visas for intracompany transfers, H-1Bs for workers in a speciality occupation, H-2Bs for temporary non-agricultural workers and J-1 visas for exchange visitors, according to three sources familiar with plans.
Exceptions are expected to be made for Covid-19 related activities, like health care professionals and jobs related to food supply, according to the sources.
Over recent weeks, businesses and industry groups have submitted concerns in letters, underscoring the importance of the high-skilled workforce to the US economy.
On Tuesday, a technology trade group wrote to Trump arguing that non-immigrant visas have been key to sustaining the economy in the midst of a global public health crisis.
America’s foreign-born workforce, wrote the Information Technology Industry Council, “is enabling many Americans to continue to work remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, and is playing an essential role … to keep businesses running securely and people connected.”
ITI is backed by companies including Apple, Google, Microsoft and Oracle.
“Constraints on our human capital are likely to result in unintended consequences and may cause substantial economic uncertainty if we have to recalibrate our personnel based on country of birth,” reads a May letter signed by hundreds of employers, trade, industry and higher education associations and groups. Signatories included Facebook, Twitter, Google and Lyft, among others.
In a separate letter to Trump, the H-2B workforce coalition reiterated that visas are “a critical safety valve for companies to address seasonal labor needs” when there aren’t American workers to fill the short-term jobs.
“There are employers, there are trade associations that are constantly talking to the administration and the Congress about the value of these programs,” Gregg Hartley, co-chair of the H2-B workforce coalition, told CNN. “It’s an ongoing effort. The letter is one of many attempts that policymakers have all the facts on their hands.”
But just as businesses and industry groups have provided their input, so have advocates of reduced immigration who say the changes are necessary to protect American workers.
“We’re providing information through backchannels and most importantly, our members, our grassroots are pushing the same agenda,” said Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, a group that advocates for reduced immigration.
Last month, Republican Sens. Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz, Chuck Grassley and Josh Hawley also sent a letter to Trump calling for new guest worker visas to be put on hold for 60 days, as well as “certain categories” of new guest worker visas, for “at least the next year, or until unemployment has returned to normal levels” to protect American workers.
The White House immigration proclamation, dated April 22, was one of a series of modifications to the immigration system, attributed to the pandemic. The order targeted people outside of the United States seeking to legally migrate to the US, with some exceptions.
“Whenever appropriate, but no later than 50 days from the effective date of this proclamation, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Labor, recommend whether I should continue or modify this proclamation,” the order reads, setting the deadline for this weekend.