Explainer: Trump’s proposal to suspend legal immigration leaves many unanswered questions

By Ted Hesson WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday he will suspend legal immigration to limit the spread of the new coronavirus and preserve jobs for Americans but his announcement was short on details. Here is a look at the unanswered questions about what Trump's plan to issue an executive order to stem immigration might look like and who could be excepted from any ban, which follows a series of steps he has already taken to clamp down on legal immigration.

Reuters April 22, 2020 03:10:24 IST
Explainer: Trump’s proposal to suspend legal immigration leaves many unanswered questions

Explainer Trumps proposal to suspend legal immigration leaves many unanswered questions

By Ted Hesson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday he will suspend legal immigration to limit the spread of the new coronavirus and preserve jobs for Americans but his announcement was short on details.

Here is a look at the unanswered questions about what Trump's plan to issue an executive order to stem immigration might look like and who could be excepted from any ban, which follows a series of steps he has already taken to clamp down on legal immigration.

WHO WILL BE AFFECTED AND HOW LONG WILL IT LAST?

The White House did not publicly release details of the plan or specify what types of visas might be affected.

However, a senior administration official told Reuters that U.S. officials, including some at the Labor Department, are studying a timeline for the possible executive order to allow flexibility once circumstances change.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the order will include exemptions for people involved in responding to the coronavirus outbreak, including farm workers and those helping to secure U.S. food supplies.

DOES TRUMP HAVE THE POWER TO SUSPEND IMMIGRATION?

The Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that Trump could block the entry of certain foreigners from countries deemed a security threat, an affirmation of the president's power to restrict legal immigration under federal law.

But some legal experts argue the court's ruling does not permit a broad, worldwide ban on immigration into the United States and expect any order by Trump to be challenged in court.

HOW HAS TRUMP RESTRICTED IMMIGRATION IN THE PAST?

The White House declined on Monday to offer further details about the order, its timing, or its legal basis. But the Trump administration has used several legal avenues to restrict travel to the United States in the past.

Trump issued an executive order in late January that barred certain travelers coming to the United States from China, the place where the coronavirus first surfaced. He similarly blocked certain travelers from Iran in February and from Europe in March.

Long before the pandemic, Trump had issued travel bans for national security reasons, too. In late January, he added Nigeria and five additional countries to an existing list of countries subject to visa restrictions.

Lawful permanent residents, also known as green card holders, were exempted from Trump's moves to restrict travel from China, Iran and Europe due to the coronavirus and from Trump's security-focused travel ban policies, which allowed them to enter the country. However, the Trump administration has not said how they would be treated under the latest order.

The Trump administration also used a health-focused statute last month to allow border authorities to rapidly return migrants who attempt to cross the border illegally.

It is not clear from Trump's tweet what the executive order would mean for people who have immigration visas and jobs but have not yet moved to the United States.

WHAT DOES IMMIGRATION LOOK LIKE NOW?

The United States issues two main types of visas: immigrant visas for people who intend to live in the country permanently and non-immigrant visas for those on a temporary stay.

The number of immigrant visas issued under Trump has declined compared with the levels of his predecessor, Barack Obama.

The U.S. Department of State issued roughly 462,000 immigrant visas in fiscal year 2019, which began on Oct. 1, 2018. The figure represents a 25 percent decline from fiscal 2016, the last full year under Obama.

The United States issued more than 8,742,000 non-immigrant visas in fiscal year 2019, covering everyone from tourists to temporary workers. That was a 16 percent decrease from 2016 levels, according to State Department data.

The United States suspended routine visa services in most countries worldwide on March 18 due to the coronavirus outbreak, a move that was expected to dramatically slow legal immigration. In addition, countries around the world have closed their borders and enacted quarantines to limit the spread of the virus, greatly reducing travel worldwide.

The State Department issues monthly visa reports that illustrate the latest trends, but that data for March is not yet public.

WOULD BLOCKING IMMIGRANTS HELP THE ECONOMY?

A record 22 million Americans sought unemployment benefits over the past month, nearly wiping out all the job gains since the Great Recession.

Trump said in his tweet on Monday that an immigration suspension would protect U.S. workers, an extension of the message he employed during his 2016 presidential campaign.

Trump's backers and groups that push for lower levels of immigration praised the move.

Thomas Homan, Trump’s former acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said it "makes sense" and will keep the country safer while preserving jobs for unemployed Americans.

Ali Noorani, president of the National Immigration Forum immigrant advocacy group said Trump's tweet ignores that "immigrants are standing shoulder to shoulder with U.S. citizens on the frontlines helping us get through this pandemic."

Immigrants make up 17 percent of healthcare workers in the United States, according to an analysis of U.S. government data by the advocacy group New American Economy.

(Reporting by Ted Hesson, editing by Ross Colvin and Alistair Bell)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

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