The Platform

Tia Dufour

Even during a pandemic, Donald Trump finds the time to throw red meat at his base.

President Trump’s immigration ban is yet another desperate ploy by an administration to both fulfill political promises to a disillusioned base and tackle a pandemic that has gotten wildly out of control in the United States.

On April 20th, the president tweeted one of his usual, dramatic, sweeping tweets: “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!”

The white, elderly conservatives that make up the core of his support base hooted and hollered, claiming that Mr. Trump was following through on promises to be tougher on immigration and protecting American jobs during a period of record unemployment caused by COVID-19. When the executive order rolled out of the White House late on Wednesday, it fell far short of the anticipated ban. Although the move blocks those outside the United States from obtaining green cards and stops those with green cards from sponsoring a spouse or child for permanent residence, there are multiple important exceptions.

First of all, immigration was already on a virtual hold. The effects of COVID-19 have slowed global movement to a bare minimum, with consideration for travel visas to the United States suspended and restrictions already in place for nonessential travel. The exceptions to the new “ban” render it largely useless to Trump’s purported motives of “protecting American jobs.” The ban does not affect workers such as farm laborers from entering the country or those already in the U.S. seeking to change their status. Furthermore, the majority of green cards are granted to people inside the United States already- meaning the ban does not cover them.

President Trump has made immigration one of the centerpieces of his presidency, rallying his base around increasingly xenophobic calls for crackdowns on immigration. His administration has been at the center of multiple human rights controversies, including brutal border separation policies and the detaining of immigrants, including young children, in horrific conditions. His latest play on the topic is a weak, desperate distraction from his failures to fight the spread of COVID-19 and a pathetic attempt to re-fire his base.

It’s well known the president’s chief pandemic strategy has been playing the blame game, praising the World Health Organization for effective responses before about-facing to deliver sharp criticism and halt American funding to the organization, a move which most rational people agree was a terrible mistake. In the past he has referred to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus,” a term which has since been picked up by conservative politicians and pundits. Now, the all-seeing spotlight of Trump’s blame game has come to rest on his favorite target: immigrants. First of all, the ban does nothing to affect the temporary work visas continuing to be granted to migrant workers, which would be important should the goal be protecting American jobs. Secondly, the Trump administration has done nothing to decrease the number of temporary workers recognizing their necessity in keeping food supplies strong.

It has been the case since Trump first began spouting anti-immigrant vitriol from every platform he could find- data shows that immigration to the United States actually boosts the economy, stimulating growth and increasing the number of available jobs. “The idea that immigration threatens American jobs is just not there in any data,” said Giovanni Peri, a professor of economics at the University of California, Davis, in a statement to Reuters.

It is without a doubt that Trump is simply exploiting a crisis to advance a determinedly racist and anti-immigrant agenda. People are at their most vulnerable when cash is short and times are stressful, and the coronavirus has certainly created such a time. However, now is not the time to appeal to people’s worst instincts. There have been countless examples of people turning to kindness and empathy during this stressful time, from incredible shows of support for essential workers in Israel and Spain to students making cards and meals for strangers in isolation to the British Red Cross receiving record numbers of volunteers.

Healthcare workers, first responders, and countless others have worked endless hours, without enough equipment or support, to keep the rest of us safe and the country running. But people are heavily influenced by public figures, and Trump has taken a decidedly destructive route. His example does not foster compassion or love- it sparks anger and frustration. His decisions in the nation’s highest office have done nothing to urge the public down a sustainable path forward. Instead, his actions, the immigrant ban chief among them, have shown that he prioritizes political gain and public image far more than the safety and security of U.S. citizens, not to mention respect for human life and dignity.

His announcement of the ban and the rhetoric surrounding it smacks of authoritarianism. This crisis could be a huge turning point for the United States, and indeed the rest of the world. We have the chance to show that solidarity in suffering is far more powerful than instincts to isolationism and xenophobia. In a time of record unemployment (15-20%, by the last count) and necessary precautions to prevent the spread of a deadly disease, measures must be taken to protect both the economic and physical health of our country. This is undeniable. But such measures must be based on facts, sound science, compassion, and solidarity for the most vulnerable. We must take this opportunity to lift up marginalized voices, support those at the highest risk, and extend a hand to those in need. There is no space for toxic political ploys, pathetically disguised as efforts to protect America, in the path to recovery.

Galen Miller is a high school senior from Boone, North Carolina, and serves as the Content Director for the Foreign Policy Youth Collaborative. With a passion for activism, Galen leads a Sunrise Hub in his town.