We’re not actually stopping legal immigration after all

Yesterday we looked at the President’s recent announcement about suspending all legal immigration to the United States and how that might impact both our long-term immigration strategy and our efforts to combat the pandemic. Well, as too often happens, interpreting United States policy based on a single tweet from the President’s Twitter feed is a risky proposition at best. President Trump’s first announcement didn’t contain much in the way of details, but now that it’s being more fully fleshed out, we’re learning that we’re really not ending legal immigration entirely. In fact, we’re probably not going to be changing the numbers in any meaningful fashion. What we’re really doing is pausing the issuance of green cards. (Associated Press)

President Donald Trump announced what he described as a “temporary suspension of immigration into the United States.” But the executive order would bar only those seeking permanent residency, not temporary workers.

Trump said Tuesday he would be placing a 60-day pause on the issuance of green cards in an effort to limit competition for jobs in a U.S. economy wrecked by the coronavirus. The order would include “certain exemptions,” he said, but he declined to outlined them, noting the order was still being crafted.

“By pausing immigration we’ll help put unemployed Americans first in line for jobs as America reopens, so important,” Trump said at the White House. “It would be wrong and unjust for Americans laid off by the virus to be replaced with new immigrant labor flown in from abroad.”

There are a variety of reasons that this announcement has turned out to be mostly a non-news item. First, the order doesn’t affect visas, which are the vehicles used by the vast majority of foreigners legally coming to the United States for the first time. Many are work visas, though student and tourist visas are also popular. Trump’s explanation that pausing the issuance of green cards will ensure that Americans are first in line for jobs when the economy is restarted may be true in some cases, but suspending the issuance of work visas would likely have done a lot more.

Second, the ban on new green cards isn’t absolute and has a gaping hole in it. This order won’t affect the issuance of green cards to immediate family members of American citizens. Records show that roughly one million green cards were issued last year and nearly half of them were given to people in that category. (And not to put too fine of a point on this, but that’s supposedly how the First Lady’s family was allowed to come to live here.)

And finally, as one immigration attorney interviewed for the article points out, this is essentially a symbolic order in its entirety. The reason is that the embassies have basically been closed except for emergency situations since the middle of March. Nobody has been available to process green card requests for more than a month so almost none have been issued anyway. The only way this would have any real impact is if the ban extended past the date when the embassies are reopened for normal business. And that wouldn’t make any sense based on the rationale the President offered for issuing the order, to begin with.

As I predicted yesterday, groups like the ACLU almost immediately began crying “racism” in response to this announcement. But in reality, they don’t have much to complain about. The number of immigrants arriving in the country isn’t going to measurably change, at least in the short term.

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