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Trump’s immigration executive order is misguided and opportunistic

Despite the supposedly concerned language in Trump’s tweet, his executive order is rooted in truly misguided fears.

As former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel would advise: Never let a crisis go to waste.

President Trump apparently agrees. It’s why he took to Twitter last week to announce his plan to sign an executive order for the good of all Americans: “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!”

The order, which Trump signed on April 22, only adds to his streak of invoking “total authority” in the name of coronavirus combat. It drew immediate scrutiny from immigration advocacy groups like Amnesty and the ACLU, which claim that the executive order will do little to curb the medical and economic effects of the coronavirus and is instead rooted in xenophobia.

And they’re right––Trump’s executive order, though it masquerades as a shrewd and forward-thinking policy, holds very little water upon closer inspection.

In truth, immigration has ceased in all but name. The Trump administration closed the southern border in March, citing the public health risk that border-crossers would pose to the U.S. Migrants who attempt to cross the border are expelled as soon as they’re found. Almost all visa processing had already been halted prior to Trump announcing his executive order, meaning that very few hopeful visitors or immigrants could secure necessary documents to come to the U.S. And naturalization processes, from interviews to citizenship ceremonies, have been postponed.

Immigration to the United States is so scarce these days as to render Trump’s order completely unnecessary. But even if it’s unnecessary, it’s concerning. While the order is initially effective for 60 days, Trump has the power to extend measures if he so desires, which has prompted fears that immigration will remain limited for the rest of his presidency.

Trump’s logic falls apart, too, on the subject of his proclaimed commitment to protecting American jobs. Jobs are undoubtedly at risk these days, with 22 million people filing for unemployment in the last several weeks. Even so, it would be asinine to claim that keeping immigrants out would improve this number or alleviate the pain that American workers are feeling. According to a 2012 Brookings Institute report, increased immigration doesn’t result in more unemployment or lower wages for native-born Americans, largely because immigrants often work jobs that Americans either don’t want or can’t perform. In reality, we’d be in even worse shape without immigrant labor.

Trump knows that, given that his executive order includes exceptions for migrant workers in critical fields like agriculture and health care. This wouldn’t be an insignificant allowance. Migrants make up about 10 percent of the agricultural workforce and 16 percent of the medical sector. But if the order was truly about staving off the “Invisible Enemy,” wouldn’t Trump be reticent to let in even these workers? If it was truly about saving American jobs, wouldn’t Trump save those jobs for American citizens?

On some level, even Trump recognizes that immigrants are incredibly important parts of the U.S. labor force, performing critical work that makes the entire country better. He wouldn’t have outlined these exceptions otherwise. But foreign workers who aren’t in the medical or agricultural sectors deserve to be here, too.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, around 6 million immigrants––both documented and undocumented––are working on the front lines of the disease. They’re well-represented in the medical sector, to be sure. But migrants work at grocery stores, food-processing facilities, and in other service industries in significant numbers. Calling these workers essential would be an understatement. Trump’s executive order highlights his glaring hypocrisy. Just days after optimistically sharing his plan to reopen the country, he’s suddenly taken on the image of a cautious executive, identifying an enemy that needs to stay at a distance. The order looks to be little more than the latest iteration of Trump’s “America First” campaign.

Despite the supposedly concerned language in Trump’s tweet, his executive order is rooted in truly misguided fears. Immigrants aren’t nearly as dangerous as the president would have us believe. But an American economy without foreign workers?

Terrifying.

Fiona Harrigan is a contributor for Young Voices and a political writer from Tucson, Arizona.