Immigration Pause Executive Order: What’s in it and how can it be fixed?
By RJ Hauman and Preston Huennekens | April 2020
On April 22, President Trump signed an Executive Order temporarily suspending some forms of immigration into the United States as part of the administration’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.
“In order to protect our great American workers, I’ve just signed an executive order temporarily suspending immigration into the United States,” the president said during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House. “This will ensure that unemployed Americans of all backgrounds will be first in line for jobs as our economy reopens."
A full 80 percent of the American public agrees with President Trump that pausing immigration is necessary. Such a move also stands on strong legal footing. In 2018, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the President’s authority and power to restrict immigration by upholding the travel ban.
Unfortunately, despite President Trump’s initial assurances that the Executive Order would protect American workers, it provides little benefit to them. What it truly does is protect powerful business interests who are desperate to retain access to cheap foreign labor, both now and in the future. The President must update the order and revise it to ensure that when the jobs come back, that American workers will come back too. We cannot afford to replace Americans with guestworkers.
What’s in it?
The Proclamation Suspending Entry of Immigrants Who Present Risk to the U.S. Labor Market During the Economic Recovery Following the COVID-19 Outbreak is eight sections long and details the president’s authority to make such a proclamation, who the order applies to, who it exempts, and why the administration chose to pursue this action. The order justifies this action by citing the effect that immigrant workers have on Americans competing with them for limited jobs, particularly in the service sector of our economy.
Who is affected?
The order only bans those applying for immigrant visas (green cards) from outside the United States, with major caveats. Some of those are explained below:
In 2019, the State Department issued only 20.6 percent of employment-based green cards to individuals outside of the United States. In the family-preference categories, the State Department issued 90.6 percent of visas to people outside the country. However, considering that the largest family category is exempt, FAIR’s research department estimated that the Executive Order will only affect less than 10 percent of the 1.1 million or so who seek permanent residency every year.
Essentially, this ban only applies to:
- Aliens applying for employment-based immigrant visas from outside the United States
- Note that the State Department issues the majority of employment-based green cards to people already in the U.S., many of whom came here under the H-1B program
- Aliens applying for the Diversity Visa Lottery
- Aliens applying for family-based immigrant visas who aren’t nuclear family members (parents, siblings, etc.) from outside the U.S.
Who is exempt?
Thanks to administration officials and corporate lobbyists who convinced the President to place the wishes of business interests over American workers, the Executive Order contains many exemptions. In addition to not applying to any guestworkers, the order exempts:
- Current legal permanent residents (green card holders)
- Medical staff (nurses, doctors, other miscellaneous healthcare professionals)
- Those applying under the controversial EB-5 investor visa program
- Spouses, children, and adoptees of U.S. citizens
- Immigrants in the U.S. military, and immigrants designated by the attorney general for “law enforcement purposes”
- “Special Interest” aliens
- Anyone who the Secretary of Homeland Security or State determines is in the “national interest”
- Individuals seeking asylum or refugee status
How long will it last and can it be modified?
The Executive Order expires 60 days from April 22. It adds that within 50 days the Secretaries of Homeland Security, Labor, and State shall recommend to the president whether the order should be modified or continue.
Fortunately, it leaves the door open to include guestworker programs in a revised version, with a section saying that in the next 30 days, the aforementioned secretaries must “review [guestworker programs] and recommend to [the president] other measures appropriate to stimulate the United States economy and ensure the prioritization, hiring and employment of United States workers.”
What is FAIR’s position?
Not only does the exemption filled Executive Order apply to a small number of immigrants, it completely ignores what is arguably the largest component of foreign-born impact on the welfare of American workers: out of control guestworker programs including H-1B, H-2A, H-2B, L-1, and J-1. These programs contribute to a yearly flow of around one million foreign workers, many of whom stay for years while occupying jobs that could be held by Americans.
Guestworkers significantly harm the job prospects and wages of Americans who compete against them in industries such as service, landscaping, construction, and even white-collar jobs. Research continues to show that there are no jobs Americans won’t do, and the continued growth of unemployment due to the pandemic throws cold water on the suggestion that Americans won’t take temporary jobs. It is laughable to suggest that this Executive Order will do anything to protect tens of millions of unemployed, job-seeking Americans from the negative effects of cheap foreign labor.
In order to truly address the problem, FAIR is calling for a new Executive Order to be issued that includes substantially all forms of immigration – especially guestworker programs. This would help Americans out of the labor force come back in, both now and when the economy finally begins to recover.
Then, once economic conditions return to normal, some of these programs need to be abolished or reformed by Congress.
FAIR’s experts continue to evaluate the effects of this executive order and address it in the media. Below are relevant materials:
- FAIR Blasts Executive Order in Letter to Trump, Urges New One Within 30 Days. [link]
- Letter from FAIR President Dan Stein to President Donald Trump [link]
- How Many Immigrants Would Be Impacted by the Trump Executive Order? [link]
- Executive Order On Immigration Does Little To Aid Reeling American Workers [link]
- President Trump’s Go-Kart Executive Order on Immigration [link]
- ImmigrationReform.com - FAIR’s official blog