President Donald Trump was accused of exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to advance his administration's anti-immigrant agenda in response to his Monday order expanding restrictions on temporary worker visas.
"This is another thinly-veiled attempt to implement radical changes to our immigration system, and to limit the number of non-citizens who are able to come to the U.S.," tweeted the American Immigration Council. "This is not about public health or the economy."
The proclamation, which cites "the extraordinary circumstances of the economic contraction resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak," takes aim at those currently outside the U.S. and takes effect June 24.
In addition to extending through the end of the year — or longer "as necessary" — the restrictions Trump put in place in April freezing the visa lottery system and barring legal residents from bringing over family members, the new order suspends entry to H-1B "highly skilled" workers and H-2B seasonal non-agricultural laborers, as well as their spouses and children. It also suspends new entry for cultural and educational exchange worker J visa holders and specialized worker L visa holders. The order exempts temporary food laborers or people whose entry is deemed by the administration to be "in the national interest."
According to NBC News,
Senior administration officials said Trump has also asked the Departments of Homeland Security, State and Labor to work on regulations that will have a permanent impact, such as ending work permits for many asylum seekers and ending the lottery system for H-1B visas.
"This shutdown will not be temporary," the American Immigration Council warned in a tweet. "As long as the Trump administration is in office, they will continue to look for excuses to justify extending this ban."
Elin Videvall, a postdoctoral researcher at the Smithsonian, said that the restrictions "should be of great concern to all U.S. scientists who are no longer able to hire international students and postdocs." The March for Science issued a similar warning, tweeting, "This is a xenophobic move that will hurt U.S. science for years to come."
The ACLU, meanwhile, rejected the administration's stated rationale for the new restrictions.
"This is not a response to COVID-19 or an economic crisis. It's the exploitation of a pandemic to reshape immigration law, while superseding Congress," the rights group wrote in a Twitter thread in which they rebuked the order as an example of "Stephen Miller bans," referring to the anti-immigrant White House advisor.
Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, also singled out Miller as a driving force behind the order
"The latest travel ban is a new season of the same racist, xenophobic show put on by Donald Trump and Stephen Miller," she said. "But Trump's transparent effort to rally his base and distract from his innumerable failures, including his disastrous response to COVID-19, will not work. Indeed, the courts will stop his unlawful actions targeting immigrants. Like the past versions of this overused script using a pandemic to justify white nationalist policies, it deserves to be cancelled."
Outrage came from Democrats on the Capitol Hill as well, with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Immigration and Citizenship Chair Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) accusing Trump of "once again abusing the law in an attempt to distract the American public from his abject failure to combat COVID-19."
According to Rep. Pramila Japayal (D-Wash.), "For months, Trump has been desperately trying to do anything to open the country back up and return to 'normal.' EXCEPT for those who are immigrants seeking to contribute to this country."
"We must defeat Trump's racist and white nationalist agenda," she said.