The order will temporarily halt the issuing of green cards for permanent residency to immigrants who are currently outside the U.S. — obstructing many people’s ability to join family members currently in the U.S.
The order includes broad exceptions. It does not apply to those with existing temporary work visas or to spouses or children of U.S. citizens looking to come to the U.S. It also wouldn’t apply to anyone deemed to “perform work essential to combating, recovering from, or otherwise alleviating the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak,” including health workers. And anyone in the U.S. military or those seeking asylum or refuge would not be affected.
After the 60-day period, the order will be evaluated for possible further extension or modification, Trump said at Tuesday’s White House briefing.
“By pausing immigration, we’ll help put unemployed Americans first in line for jobs as America reopens,” Trump said Tuesday. “We must first take care of the American worker.”
There will likely be legal challenges seeking to stop the order from going into effect. It follows Trump’s repeated efforts since he took office to broadly exclude immigrants from the country.
“Our nation faces an extraordinary health crisis at this time,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union after Trump’s tweet announcing the upcoming order on Monday. “Xenophobia and racism are not the answer.”
Stephen Yale-Loehr, professor of immigration law at Cornell Law School, said early Tuesday, before the order was released, that such an order was “outrageous and likely unconstitutional,” noting the U.S. has “never done that before, even during world wars.”
Trump claimed in his Monday tweet the order was about “the attack from the Invisible Enemy, as well as the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens.”
The White House did not respond to a request for clarification on what a pause in immigration has to do with halting a virus that has already been spreading within the U.S. for weeks.
The Trump administration has already used the coronavirus pandemic to stop immigration processes in the country, including stopping naturalization ceremonies and turning away asylum-seekers at the southern U.S. border with Mexico.
Starting last month, naturalization ceremonies have been canceled indefinitely amid the spread of the virus and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services offices have been closed. Depending when these last steps in the process to become a citizen get rescheduled, this could potentially block immigrants from becoming citizens in time to vote in November.
Last month, the U.S. also announced a halt in the processing of undocumented migrants at the southern border, turning people away and returning them to their home countries — including asylum-seekers fleeing danger — rather than bringing them into detention centers to process their claims.
Trump has repeatedly touted what he called a “ban” on travel from China, the initial epicenter of the outbreak, in late January — though this had exceptions for residents of Hong Kong and other areas and U.S. citizens and permanent residents, allowing in tens of thousands of people on flights for weeks. The White House later banned travel from much of Europe in mid-March, adding the United Kingdom days later.
While Trump has repeatedly touted the wall being built on the southern border with Mexico as he discusses his administration’s response to the pandemic — including in Monday’s White House briefing — experts have noted that such a wall is not relevant to stopping the spread of the virus, which is already in the U.S.
The U.S. continues to lead the world in coronavirus cases and deaths, with more than 840,000 confirmed cases as of Wednesday and more than 46,000 deaths.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.