'Xenophobic scapegoating': Trump plan to ban immigration slammed

Confusion after Trump, without giving details, says he will 'temporarily suspend immigration' due to coronavirus.

    President Donald Trump speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House [File: Patrick Semansky/AP Photo]
    President Donald Trump speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House [File: Patrick Semansky/AP Photo]

    United States President Donald Trump caused confusion and anger after saying in a late-night Monday tweet that he will "temporarily suspend immigration" due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    Referring to the coronavirus, or "the Invisible Enemy", as well as "the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens", Trump tweeted that he will "be signing an Executive Order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States!"

    The president offered no other details at the time.

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    White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany issued a statement on Tuesday morning echoing Trump's past comments about immigration. 

    "At a time when Americans are looking to get back to work, action is necessary," she said.

    Later on Tuesday, Trump confirmed the order would last 60 days and apply narrowly to those seeking permanent immigration status. He said there would be exemptions, but did not elaborate. 

    Trump added that other actions were being considered, but he remained focused on the initial order, which he said he would "probably" sign on Wednesday. 

    The US has already effectively halted most immigration. Due to the pandemic, almost all visa processing by the State Department, including immigrant visas, has been suspended for weeks. The US has also suspended the refugee programme, and is turning back all undocumented migrants and asylum seekers who attempt to cross the border between official ports of entry. 

    Trump has taken credit for his restrictions on travel to the US from China and hard-hit European countries, arguing the restrictions contributed to slowing the spread of the virus in the US. But he has not extended those restrictions to other nations now experiencing virus outbreaks. It is also unclear what effect those restrictions have had, with critics pointing out that the curbs had exemptions that allowed travel from those effected countries to continue for some. 

    'Scapegoating'

    Democrats, immigration lawyers and advocates immediately slammed Trump's Monday announcement, saying his proposed executive order amounts to "xenophobic scapegoating".

    "From the beginning Trump has flailed about seeking someone to blame for his own failure. Obama. Governors. China. Speaker Pelosi. People of Asian descent," tweeted Virginia Democrat Don Beyer before details began to emerge about the proposed ban. 

    "Immigration has nearly stopped and the US has far more cases than any other country," he said. "This is just xenophobic scapegoating."

    American Gateways, a Texas-based immigration rights organisation, said stopping immigration to the US "is xenophobic and ignorant and is being used to scapegoat immigrants".

    "Policies to lessen the impacts of the COVID-19 in the US should be based in science and public health, and not used to scapegoat an entire group," Rebecca Lightsey, executive director of American Gateways, said in a statement.

    Immigration lawyer Charles Kuck said on Twitter that he had received calls and emails from several clients "trying to figure out if their wife, husband, mom, dad, doctor, nurse, accountant, farmworker, etc are going to be barred from coming into the US while Trump remains President".

    'A distraction'

    Critics say Trump's expected move effectively achieves a long-term Trump policy goal to curb immigration, making use of the health and economic crisis that has swept the country as a result of the pandemic to do so.

    Trump, elected in 2016 in part on his vow to stamp out irregular immigration, had staked his re-election in November on the strength of a US economy now sapped by the economic shutdown to stop the pandemic. He has since been pressing for states to begin easing restrictions that have left a record 22 million people seeking unemployment benefits.

    “It makes sense to protect opportunities for our workforce while this pandemic plays out,” said Thomas Homan, Trump’s former acting director of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “It’s really not about immigration. It’s about the pandemic and keeping our country safer while protecting opportunities for unemployed Americans.”

    But others online accused Trump of distracting from what they call the failures of the US response to the coronavirus. Trump was accused of initially downplaying the gravity of the virus and the US faced testing complications. 

    The US has by far the world's largest number of confirmed coronavirus cases, with more than 43,900 deaths and 816,000 infections as of Monday. 

    "[Trump] is trying to distract from 42,500 Americans dead and counting! Don't fall for it!" activist Amy Siskind tweeted early on Tuesday. 

    Trump's proposed executive order will likely face legal challenges.

    "Our nation faces an extraordinary health crisis at this time," the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) tweeted. "Xenophobia and racism are not the answer."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies