President Trump confirmed that he will temporarily halt immigration to the US for 60 days to protect American jobs during the coronavirus crisis. In a briefing on Tuesday, the US President said he would issue an executive order relevant to applicants for green cards, or permanent residency.
“In order to protect American workers, I will be issuing a temporary suspension of immigration,” Mr Trump said at the daily coronavirus task force news briefing. “It would be wrong and unjust for Americans laid off by the virus to be replaced with new immigrant labour flown in from abroad.”
The announcement followed a late-night tweet hinting at the decision. “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,” Mr Trump said in a tweet on Monday.
Critics have said the decision is designed to distract voters from the administration's handling of the coronavirus. The US now has 819,164 confirmed cases of Covid-19, and 45,340 have died, by far the highest caseload and death toll worldwide.
"President Trump's actions are designed to distract and divide us from the fact that America now has the highest death and infection from the coronavirus. This should be a moment where everyone in America stands together to defeat the virus," the American Immigration Council said in a tweet.
Some key workers applying for temporary visas, including farm workers and health care providers will likely be exempt.
US Democrats have accused the Trump administration of using the pandemic to pursue hardline anti-immigration policies. Slowing immigration was a key campaign pledge for Mr Trump when he was elected in 2016 and since the start of the outbreak the government has taken steps to bar asylum seekers and undocumented migrants from entering the US.
During the briefing, Mr Trump said the executive order, which is due to be signed on Wednesday, could be extended for "much longer."
The border clampdowns come as the Trump administration looks to re-open the country in phases, despite the ongoing battle with Covid-19. More than 22m people have filed jobless claims over the past month, according to the US labour department and Mr Trump is keen to get the economy moving again with elections approaching in November.
The President has voiced his support for protesters who have been taking to the streets in some US states to push back against coronavirus lockdowns. Scenes of healthcare workers blocking anti-lockdown protesters at a rally in Colorado this week captured the face-off that's gathering pace in the US between the urgent need to protect populations during the pandemic and calls to reopen the economy.