President Donald Trump announced Monday that he would temporarily suspend immigration to the U.S. after Fox News host Tucker Carlson pushed him to do so for weeks.
"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, without explaining which immigration programs he would suspend or what legal basis he had for doing so.
The Department of Homeland Security continues to work on a formal executive order that would halt all new applications for green cards and work visas, according to The New York Times. Workers who have received work visas in the past would also be denied entry, though the administration is expected to exempt workers in industries considered to be essential.
Trump vowed earlier this month that he would not pause visas for agricultural workers.
"We want them to come in," he said. "We're not closing the border so that we can't get any of those people to come in. They've been there for years and years, and I've given the commitment to the farmers. They're going to continue to come, or we're not going to have any farmers."
The move is certain to be challenged in court.
"When you're a xenophobe, bans on migration are the only tired, failed, hateful solution you can think of," Charanya Krishnaswami, the Americas advocacy director for Amnesty International USA, tweeted. "Suspending immigration won't make the US — which currently leads among COVID cases worldwide — safe. Our policies need to be grounded in public health, not bigotry."
Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, the chairman of the House Hispanic Caucus, accused Trump of using the health crisis to advance his agenda.
"This action is not only an attempt to divert attention away from Trump's failure to stop the spread of the coronavirus and save lives, but an authoritarian-like move to take advantage of a crisis and advance his anti-immigrant agenda," he wrote. "We must come together to reject his division."
Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, warned that the move threatens to cut off workers the country has relied on most during the pandemic.
"President Trump now seeks to distract us from his fumbled COVID-19 response by trying to put the blame on immigrants," he added. "The truth is many immigrants are on our front lines, protecting us as doctors, nurses, health aids, farmworkers, and restaurant workers."
The surprise announcement came after Carlson spent weeks pressing Trump to cut off legal immigration in response to job losses sparked by the crisis. Carlson has had an outsized influence in the Trump White House, convincing the president to take the coronavirus seriously, turning him on to the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a potential (but unproven) coronavirus treatment and serving as his "most influential national security adviser," according to former Trump strategist Steve Bannon.
"If President Obama was able to ignore existing immigration law and create DACA, and he did, then certainly the current president has the power to cut legal immigration in order to protect the nation. And, in fact, American law gives him explicitly this right," Carlson argued earlier this month. ". . . The time to placate corporate interest looking for low wages at all costs has passed, we need to stop this."
Carlson was joined in his effort by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has regularly drawn Trump's scorn but has long pushed the anti-immigration policies Trump and adviser Stephen Miller, a former Sessions aide, have enacted.
"We have about 1.4 million people that come to this country every year to take jobs. We just announced today 5 million more people on the unemployment roll . . . 22 million now [since mid-March]. There is no doubt it is in the interest of the United States of America to make sure that we get every one of those unemployed American jobs first," Sessions said in an appearance on Carlson's show last week. "So why bring in foreign workers to take those jobs when we should do everything possible . . . to get American workers that are unemployed in those jobs?"
Sessions, who is running for his old Senate seat in Alabama, celebrated the announcement Monday.
"Last week, I announced on [Carlson's] show my plan to suspend immigration until Americans are back to work," he tweeted. "It's great news that @RealDonaldTrump is putting this into action!"
But Democrats warned that cutting off the flow of workers in key areas could have unintended consequences as the country faces a health and economic catastrophe.
"This is beyond belief," Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus tweeted. "Immigrants have always made America great. Suspending immigration & giving into racism & xenophobia won't solve our problems. Instead it will have a catastrophic impact on our health care, food supply & the systems we are relying upon during this crisis."