By Josh Leach on April 23, 2020
On Monday, April 20, President Trump posted a late-night Tweet claiming he would soon “temporarily suspend immigration” throughout the United States. Two days later, he followed up this threat with a presidential proclamation suspending the issuance of many—but not all— green cards for at least 60 days.
Such a policy directly targets the family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, who make up the largest share of green card applicants every year. Like many other measures backed by this administration, it also blatantly disfavors immigrants of color—for instance by suspending the Diversity Visa program, which is one of the primary avenues through which African migrants are currently able to enter the United States.
The impact of this cruel and racist policy change is likely to be limited in the near term by the fact that U.S. authorities have already paused most processing of green card applications during the COVID-19 pandemic. The extent of the policy’s impact, therefore, will depend significantly on whether and how many times the 60-day ban is renewed.
Trump’s announcement is to a large extent an act of political theater, intended to distract the public from his own short-sighted and botched handling of the global pandemic and to rally his base of supporters. His action does real harm, nonetheless, by inciting racism, keeping families apart, and failing to ensure the safety and well-being of immigrants in the face of a crisis that demands unified collective effort.
Stigmatizing migrants and keeping loved ones apart in an effort to “put Americans first” are familiar weapons in the president’s arsenal. Trump’s playbook when faced with social problems is to shift blame onto the innocent and marginalized. At a time when many immigrants are working at the frontlines of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, placing their own lives at risk and filling the essential needs of the country, Trump continues to devalue their human worth.This does not alter the truth that immigrants have the same human rights as all other people. And the health and wellbeing of all countries and communities are interconnected—especially during a pandemic.
All communities are facing the same fall-out from a slide into economic depression, but many immigrants are particularly vulnerable with lower wage jobs, less savings, and high unemployment on top of having to navigate this crisis without the emergency relief that so many families are depending on, due to provisions in the Congressional relief packages that callously exclude many tax-paying migrants and mixed-status families.
In addition to his most recent announcement, this administration’s harmful and perverse policies in response to COVID-19 include efforts to turn away all asylum-seekers; to deport people to countries with weakened public health systems; and to remove unaccompanied children without a hearing. Such actions not only place lives at risk by spreading coronavirus further around the globe; they also deliver people seeking asylum back into the hands of their persecutors.
If President Trump were serious about protecting livelihoods during the COVID-19 crisis or promoting public health, he should support legislative efforts to ensure access to running water and other basic needs, while also creating green jobs in much-needed renewable infrastructure. Instead, he is doubling down on policies that magnify the risks for all communities.
The world has lived with the coronavirus pandemic long enough now to see that the true threat to global public health is not migration, but deception, scapegoating, racism, and authoritarianism. As UUSC’s friends at NAKASEC reminded us, “Xenophobia Should be Suspended, Not Immigration!”
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About UUSC: Guided by the belief that all people have inherent worth and dignity, UUSC advances human rights globally by partnering with affected communities who are confronting injustice, mobilizing to challenge oppressive systems, and inspiring and sustaining spiritually grounded activism for justice. We invite you to join us in this journey toward realizing a better future!