On June 22, the Trump administration announced the “Proclamation Suspending Entry of Aliens Who Present a Risk to the U.S. Labor Market Following the Coronavirus Outbreak,” which extended a previous ban on immigrant visas (aka “green cards”) to temporary non-immigrant visas.
That proclamation is simply the latest and most brazen attack on legal immigration. Since the so-called “Muslim ban” was announced in 2017, this administration has proven itself to be un-repentantly anti-immigrant and un-apologetically intolerant. Now, with an election looming on the horizon, it has seized upon a moment when America is reeling from unprecedented social and economic strife to enact policies that had been festering long before the first slender strand of coronavirus RNA uncoiled itself into existence.
While the president and his advisors have claimed that the recent restrictions on entry represent invaluable safeguards against the dual threat of coronavirus and competition posed by hordes of imagined foreigners out to steal jobs from millions of out-of-work Americans, the truth is simultaneously simpler and uglier. The administration has failed to deliver on any of the core promises the president campaigned on in 2016. The “swamp” that was supposed to be drained? More putrescent than ever. A population sick of winning? It’s not victory that’s killed more than 124,000 Americans. A booming economy? The only explosion to speak of is the one that left a crater where there once were 30 million jobs. And so, inevitably, the administration has returned to immigration in order to give a rabid base, already chafing against the unspeakable tyrannies of mask wearing and delayed haircuts, something to sink their teeth into.
The June 22nd proclamation is more than just political red meat, though. It is the continuation of the corruption of the values that for so long have made America a beacon among nations. While the long-promised physical barrier on the southern border remains nothing more than a fever dream and a few miles of easily surmountable steel rusting in the sun, the legal restrictions halting the entrance of hundreds of thousands of immigrants and temporary workers have proven far more daunting than a thousand miles of concrete or razor wire.
What is most galling and potentially heartbreaking about the June 22nd proclamation is how it so blatantly works against the goals it claims to work toward. Not only does it extend the suspension of issuance of immigrant visas to those outside of the United States until December 31, 2020, but it limits the issuance of temporary nonimmigrant H1B, H2B, J, and L visas for the same period. While there are multiple exceptions and carve outs (people now in the U.S. in one of those visa classes are exempted, as are those outside the U.S. with valid visa stamps, for example), it takes only a basic understanding of these visas to see that limiting their issuance will further stunt economic recovery and do nothing to slow the onslaught of the coronavirus as it sweeps across hundreds and thousands of beleaguered cities and towns.
To get a sense of how capricious the proclamation is, consider the L visa. L visas are available to employees of international companies with offices in both the United States and abroad. The L1A is for executives and managers, while the L1B is reserved for company employees with specialized, proprietary knowledge. Barring these people — many of whom have years of training in very specific subject areas, not to mention sophisticated business and language skills — will not magically free up jobs for unemployed Americans. If anything, it will hurt the businesses for which these immigrants provide pivotal cross-border services. The same goes for the much-maligned H1B visa, which places high-skilled workers not only in tech jobs, but also in medicine and research. Those are areas in which America desperately needs investment as the virus rages and employers look for new ways to stay viable and, in turn, to maintain their workforce. The idea that these workers simply would waltz into the country and take American jobs is patently absurd — the costs associated with these visas are high, and there are numerous regulatory provisions that must be satisfied in order to ensure these workers will not displace American workers, even in the midst of a crisis. There are multiple studies that have been conducted by credible nonpartisan organizations, which have proven time and time again that immigrants provide a net benefit to the economy, to say nothing of the communities to which they contribute.
Denying entrance to skilled immigrants hurts America at the worst possible time. And the employers who can’t bring the workers they need to offices in the U.S.? They simply will build offices where those workers are. Canada, for example, now is becoming a major destination for high-skilled workers due to greater flexibility in employment-based immigration. It seems that almost every country except the United States understands that in order to be competitive in a global economy, the workforce must include top talent from around the world. In this sense, the administration has had one undeniable success — it has made other economies stronger by driving the best and brightest away from our shores and into the welcoming arms of our competitors.
Like the coronavirus, a potential cure for the sickness plaguing America’s immigration system waits for us in the future. With a new administration and likely a new legislature freed from the shackles of partisan deadlock, we can reform the system to make sure that it works for all Americans — those who have been here for generations and those who long to call it home.
America’s golden door has been locked — but together, we will find the key.