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President Trump said in a tweet on Monday night that he will sign an executive order “temporarily” suspending immigration to the U.S. in what he suggested was a response to the coronavirus pandemic. Trump, who has repeatedly sought to downplay the threat of the coronavirus and is now pressing to reopen the country’s economy despite the risk of more (native-born) outbreaks, did not offer any substantive details about the action. It is thus not clear when the president will issue the order, how long it would last, or if it is even possible — or legal.
Trump also seemed to return to nativist rhetoric in his announcement, justifying the order “in light of the attack from the Invisible Enemy, as well as the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens.” The war on immigration has been Donald Trump’s signature political idea since he announced his campaign for president, as well as the signature policy focus of his administration.
The potential move follows earlier efforts by the Trump administration to restrict immigration during — or by taking advantage of — the coronavirus crisis. Last month, The Trump administration barred all asylum seekers from entering the country, calling the entry of refugees and undocumented immigrants a public health threat. At that point, the country was already on its way to becoming the world leader in coronavirus cases and deaths. The policy led to immigrants and asylum seekers at the southern border being expelled to Mexico in less than two hours, and without receiving medical exams.
As far as possible legal justifications for the unprecedented order, the Washington Post reports that, according to Cato Institute director of immigration studies Alex Nowrasteh, “Title 42 of the U.S. Code enables the president to halt immigration for health reasons, while a recent Supreme Court decision upholding his travel ban gives him unlimited authority on immigration.”