Posted on May 8, 2020

Inside the Campaign to Cut Immigration to the United States Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic

Priscilla Alvarez, et al, CNN, May 8, 2020

In a late-night tweet last month, President Donald Trump teased a sweeping executive order that would suspend immigration to the United States due to the coronavirus pandemic, building up anticipation among allies who for years have urged Trump to reduce levels of immigration. But the text of the proclamation, released days later, fell far short of the President’s promise.

“Imagine a car salesman selling you a Lamborghini and delivering a go-kart instead,” wrote Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group that backs slashing immigration.

Behind the scenes, the push to limit immigration during the coronavirus pandemic has been led by Stephen Miller, Trump’s lead immigration adviser and the architect of the President’s hardline immigration agenda, according to administration officials.

Even before the outbreak, Miller had been seeking ways to limit immigration into the United States. After the President’s April proclamation limiting green cards, Miller cast the move as a first step toward reducing the flow of immigrants coming into the United States.

Since then, aides have been developing follow-up actions that could limit the number of guest workers, which were a key exemption from the first action. Among the categories being raised are H-1B visas intended for highly-skilled workers and H-2B visas, which allow employers to bring foreign workers to the United States for temporary non-agricultural jobs, such as landscaping, hospitality and other industries.

Trump’s political advisers view the immigration steps as motivating for his base supporters at a moment when the President’s key election message — a strong economy — is badly weakened by the pandemic.

Since the release of the proclamation, there’s been various requests that have come out from the Trump administration for input for an expected follow-up order, said Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, a group that advocates for reduced immigration.

“We gave our rationale, went through the long list of each visa, with our various contacts in the administration,” he added.

Interest groups, lawmakers and experts have lobbied for the suspension of guest-worker visas, which allow foreign workers to legally come to the US for employment, citing the skyrocketing unemployment numbers.

“Everybody has their people within the administration that are their go-to people that will represent their voice no matter what side you’re on,” a source familiar with discussions told CNN, describing the process as between formally providing feedback and “texting between you and your best friend in the administration.”


The ongoing discussions, coupled with a series of recent immigration changes, appear to be part of a concerted effort to reshape the nation’s immigration system as the country reckons with a global pandemic and its repercussions.

In March, the Trump administration also invoked a public health law, citing the coronavirus, that largely sealed off the US-Mexico border and allowed for the swift removal of migrants apprehended at the border — a move that raised concerns among officials involved in compiling data who believed it to be driven by political motivations.

Some of the administration’s most restrictionist proposals that failed to gain enough traction before the pandemic are coming to fruition — ranging from border closures to dramatically curtailing legal immigration to the United States. And more changes are expected.


{snip} Miller told allies in a phone call it was important to “turn off the faucet of new immigrant labor” to protect Americans’ jobs, according to a participant.

Miller has previously tried to use diseases, like influenza and the mumps, as grounds to tighten the border, The New York Times reported and confirmed by a former administration official.

While the proclamation stands to affect thousands of people trying to come to the US from overseas, it didn’t address temporary guest workers. Agriculture industry representatives had implored the administration to carve out exemptions for temporary workers, including migrants who work on American farms.

Still, their exemption frustrated those looking for stricter measures.


On March 20, Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf announced that, at the direction of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the department would suspend entry of all migrants “seeking to enter the US without proper travel documentation” — for both the northern and southern border.

In April, the US swiftly removed the overwhelming majority of migrants encountered at the US-Mexico border as a result of coronavirus restrictions, according to CBP data released Thursday.

Of the 15,862 people apprehended on the southern border in April, 14,416 were quickly expelled from the US under a public health order put in place in March, according to the data.