Image via Shutterstock / Courier
Image via Shutterstock / Courier

Democratic elected officials and activists were quick to label the president’s immigration order as a racist attempt to divide Americans and distract the public from his own failures.

President Donald Trump announced on Monday that he will sign an executive order “to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States” because of the coronavirus.

“In light of the attack from the Invisible Enemy, as well as the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens, I will be signing an Executive Order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States!” Trump tweeted late Monday.

Trump offered no details about which immigration programs might be affected by the order, but Politico reported Tuesday that it would exempt farm workers, allowing the agriculture industry to continue using the H-2A guest worker program to meet their labor needs.

While Trump said the immigration ban would protect American workers from foreign competition once the nation’s economy recovers, national security adviser Robert O’Brien on Tuesday cast the president’s announcement as a move to protect the American people’s health. “We’re trying to do everything, the president’s trying to do everything he can to put the health of the American people first during this crisis,” O’Brien said on Fox News Channel. 

The order would reportedly suspend nearly all immigration under the rationale of preventing foreigners from coming to the U.S. and spreading the virus in the United States. But the virus, of course, is already here and the United States has by far the most cases of COVID-19 with more than 788,000 confirmed cases. The U.S. also has more than 42,000 deaths related to COVID-19, while no other country has more than 24,000 known deaths.

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Democratic elected officials and activists were quick to label Trump’s immigration order as a racist attempt to divide Americans and distract the public from his own failures.

“When you’re a xenophobe, bans on migration are the only tired, failed, hateful solution you can think of. Suspending immigration won’t make the US – which currently leads among COVID cases worldwide – safe,” wrote Charanya Krishnaswami, the advocacy director for the Americas at Amnesty International USA. “Our policies need to be grounded in public health, not bigotry.”

Trump’s attempt to close America’s borders in the name of health also poses a stark contrast to his efforts within those borders. In recent days, Trump has called on governors to reopen their economies and sparked civil unrest with his calls for supporters to “LIBERATE” states like Michigan, Minnesota, and Virginia from the stay-at-home orders issued by their Democratic governors. 

Spurred on by Trump and Fox News, and in many cases funded by conservative groups linked to Charles Koch and Education Secretary Betsy Devos, thousands of protesters have gathered in cities across the country to demand their governors repeal their stay-at-home orders. In doing so, they’ve violated the federal government’s own social distancing guidelines as they gather together to express what is a minority opinion—a recent poll from Quinnipiac University found that 81% of voters favored a national stay-at-home order. 

Epidemiologists say these protests, which have frequently been driven by gun-toting militia members and far right activists, could lead to a surge in COVID-19 cases. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, warned on Monday that the protests could “backfire” and further delay the reopening of the economy.

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“Unless we get the virus under control, the real recovery economically is not going to happen,” Fauci said on “Good Morning America” on Monday. “So what you do if you jump the gun and go into a situation where you have a big spike, you’re going to set yourself back…it’s going to backfire. That’s the problem.”

Trump and the protesters he’s inspired have ignored these concerns and instead focused on blaming others. Protesters have been seen holding anti-Semetic signs, comparing their governors to Adolf Hitler, harassing nurses, and accusing those who disagree with them—which, again, is 81% of Americans—of being communists. Trump, meanwhile, has focused on a favorite target: immigrants. 

Trump has frequently attacked migrants starting with his 2016 campaign, promised to “build the wall,” has enacted multiple Muslim bans, and has repeatedly made efforts to limit legal immigration during his first term. While the order is “temporary,” immigration advocates worry Trump is using the coronavirus pandemic to get to what they view as being his endgame: a total ban on immigration. 

“This is the thing he has been trying to do since the beginning. Trump and [White House aide Stephen] Miller will stop at nothing to end immigration as we know it,” wrote Jess Morales Rocketto, Executive Director of Care in Action and Political Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. 

White House officials told CNN that the executive order is being drafted and that Trump could sign it in the coming days.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.