Trump leverages the coronavirus pandemic to advance anti-immigrant policies

Trump's immigration order has been criticized for attempt "to maintain America's traditional aristocracy of race"

By Igor Derysh

Senior News Editor

Published April 29, 2020 2:35PM (EDT)

Donald Trump (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Donald Trump (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The objective of those who crafted Trump's order is "to maintain America's traditional aristocracy of race by any means necessary"

President Donald Trump threatened to withhold federal aid in the next round of coronavirus relief from states that do not change sanctuary city policies as he continues to leverage a public health crisis to advance his anti-immigrant agenda.

Trump said during a Tuesday event at the White House that he might require states to crack down on sanctuary cities, which shield undocumented immigrants from deportation, if they want funds to help pay health care workers and first responders.

"If it's COVID-related, I guess we can talk about it, but we'd want certain things also, including sanctuary-city adjustments," Trump said. "That's one of the things I think about. If we were going to do something for the states, I think they'd probably want something having to do with sanctuary cities and other different points that we can discuss a little later on."

Trump has long railed against sanctuary cities and states, arguing that they put residents in danger by not complying with federal deportations. But these claims are not supported by evidence.

"While there isn't a huge body of research on sanctuary policies' impact on crime rates, studies have found that they either slightly decrease crime rates or have no effect," Vox reported.

The latest threat comes amid repeated attempts by the president to use the crisis in order to advance anti-immigrant policies.

Trump last week announced what he described as an "immigration ban." 

"By pausing immigration, we will help put unemployed Americans first in line for jobs as America reopens — so important," he said. "It would be wrong and unjust for Americans laid off by the virus to be replaced by any new immigrant labor flown in from abroad. We must first take care of the American worker."

Though The New York Times reported that the ban would apply to both green card and visa applicants, Trump later said that the ban applied "only to people seeking permanent residency," allowing guest workers to continue to come in after big companies complained, contradicting his claim that it was intended to protect jobs.

The move came after the Trump administration already suspended visa processing, restricted incoming travel and closed the borders with Mexico and Canada to nonessential travel. The administration also postponed all future court dates for migrants awaiting hearings after being sent back to Mexico.

He has received some help from the courts, too. A Trump-appointed federal judge rejected a request Tuesday to suspend immigration court proceedings after advocates argued that migrants were at risk of being infected by the coronavirus.

The Trump administration has also limited coronavirus stimulus checks as part of its immigration crackdown.

An Illinois man sued the administration after the IRS denied $1,200 stimulus checks to people married to immigrants who do not have a valid Social Security number.

The man said he was blocked from getting the payment, because he files taxes with his immigrant wife, who uses an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.

"Discrimination based on the alienage of a U.S. citizen's spouse is presumptively unconstitutional and subject to strict scrutiny," the lawsuit argued.

Daniel Costa, an analyst at the Economic Policy Institute, told The Atlantic that Trump's policies were more cruel than practical, noting that the "immigration ban" just "mostly cut the number of people who can come to reunify with family."

Trump, he said, has "taken action to reduce the ways that immigrants can come to the U.S. where they have rights and a path to permanent residence and citizenship, but he hasn't touched the visa categories where there's tons of abuses."

In reality, the moves have little to do with the virus or protection jobs at all, argued The Atlantic's Adam Serwer.

"Although the coronavirus outbreak has largely halted immigration to the United States, the pandemic will someday subside, while nativist efforts to engineer a white majority by fiat will not," he wrote. "The long-term objective of those who crafted the president's executive order is not to protect American workers, or to serve American business interests or to grow the American economy. It is to maintain America's traditional aristocracy of race by any means necessary."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's senior news editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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Aggregate Coronavirus Covid-19 Donald Trump Immigration Politics Racism