- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2020

President Trump said Tuesday he will order a 60-day halt to new immigrants with an eye toward preventing them from competing with Americans for jobs during the coronavirus crisis — though he said temporary guest workers will still be allowed.

Mr. Trump said he felt a “solemn duty” to Americans thrown out of work by what he calls the “invisible enemy” of coronavirus.

“It would be wrong and unjust for Americans laid off by the virus to be replaced with new immigrant labor flown in from abroad,” the president said at the White House.

Mr. Trump said keeping out the newcomers would also reduce burdens on the U.S. health system.

He did not have specifics, saying the executive order was still being written and would likely be signed Wednesday.

“You’re going to need certain exemptions,” he said.

But exempting temporary workers while targeting permanent immigrants, seemed at odds with his goal, since the temporary guest workers are the ones to whom analysts point as undercutting Americans’ jobs and wages.

They’re also far more numerous.

The yearly cap on work-based immigrant visas is 140,000 — and it’s not clear how much a 60-day pause would dent that number. Mr. Trump did say he could renew the pause, should conditions warrant.

By contrast more than 800,000 temporary worker or trainee visas were issued abroad in 2019.

“It is really disappointing that the administration is not also pausing guest workers, who represent a much larger number of foreign workers than employment-based green-card holders,” said Rosemary Jenks, vice president at NumbersUSA, which advocates for stricter immigration limits.

She said American technology workers will have to compete with temporary workers with H-1B visas, while those laid off from jobs in hospitality will see employers hiring H-2B workers.

“Americans would have done those jobs, if they’d been given the chance,” Ms. Jenks said.

Mr. Trump specifically said farm workers won’t be affected by his shutdown order. In fact, Homeland Security has already announced a special exemption to let those workers — here under the H-2A visa — remain beyond their three-year limit, and to switch employers.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Mr. Trump’s likely Democratic opponent in November’s election, said the president is right to impose travel restrictions.

But he said Mr. Trump’s focus on immigrants was “incendiary,” and the president should instead be working on testing everyone coming into the U.S. “regardless of citizenship status” in order to constrain the virus.

“That’s one of the most glaring failures of this president’s response and sending inflammatory tweets to try to hide it helps no one,” Mr. Biden said.

Mr. Trump had first mentioned his plans on Twitter late Monday night, sending immigrant rights groups into a fury.

“President Trump continues to politicize this pandemic to further his racist, anti-immigrant agenda at the expense of every American’s health,” said Steve Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition.

Frank Sharry at America’s Voice, another advocacy group, called Mr. Trump’s focus on immigration “sad and predictable.”

“The president is failing. Americans are dying. He has no plan. He is doing too little too late on testing. He is responding to the worst crisis in our lifetime with spin, bluster, lies and self-congratulation. His reelection prospects are endangered. He’s panicking,” Mr. Sharry said.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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