WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday to halt new green cards for at least 60 days, though it contained a wide series of exceptions for workers in agriculture, health care, public safety and other industries deemed essential.
"This will ensure that unemployed Americans of all backgrounds will be first in line for jobs as our economy reopens," Trump said during his daily briefing on Wednesday.
The president said he would re-evaluate the halt after 60 days, stressing that the new rules do no apply to some workers. The order was released by the White House during the president's briefing. Trump said he signed it just before speaking with reporters.
The order would exempt immigrants who are physicians and nurses. It would exempt spouses of U.S. citizens, immigrants under 21 and prospective adoptees. Trump has previously said the order is aimed at temporarily halting the award of green cards.
Critics have said Trump has been using the coronavirus pandemic to pursue hard line anti-immigration policies and described the order as an attempt to distract the American public from his performance on the coronavirus response.
It is "another diversion," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., speaking on CNN. "The agencies don't even know what it is. No one knows what it is."
Trump announced his new policy late Monday night on Twitter.
"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!" Trump said in his tweet.
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The new order may not have that much practical effect.
Since the pandemic struck, the Trump administration has all but paralyzed immigration by restricting travel into the U.S., stopping most visa processing, and speeding up the return of undocumented workers to their home countries.
Charanya Krishnaswami, advocacy director for the Americas with Amnesty International USA, said Trump's actions have more to do with keeping people of color out of the United States than with coronavirus.
“When you’re a xenophobe, bans on migration are the only tired, failed, hateful solution you can think of," Krishnaswami said. "Suspending immigration won’t make the US –which currently leads among COVID cases worldwide – safe. Our policies need to be grounded in public health, not bigotry.”
Trump supporters applauded the emerging crackdown, citing the fall of the economy after state shutdowns designed to stop the spread of the virus.
Retweeting Trump's executive order announcement, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said that "22 million Americans have lost their jobs in the last month because of the China virus. Let’s help them get back to work before we import more foreigners to compete for their jobs."
Contributing: John Fritze