Once again, under the guise of COVID-19 and inside the beating heart of a disrupted election campaign, immigration is being used as a political punching bag, with Trump announcing his intentions to sign an executive order to suspend all immigration. There are two ostensible reasons given for this executive order. The first is to protect Americans from COVID-19 infection brought in from across borders, against the backdrop of a presidential support for anti-stay-at-home protests and calls to open up the US economy. The second is to protect American jobs at a time when 22 million are now officially unemployed.
For now, the suspension of immigration is an executive threat, not an order, and there is a pattern here of Trump making grand pronouncements that create a severe backlash and then are ‘refined’ before they are signed off on. In other words, this is only the entrance to a rather steep uphill path.
However, sources close to the “plan” told the New York Times that they expect a formal order temporarily barring new green cards and work visas as early as this week.
As we watch this unfold and as the real order is tweaked, it is possible that those who have been receiving visas for specialized work in the US will be denied, with some exceptions depending on the nature of that specialized work.
Plenty will refute the jobs angle to this pending executive order. But refutation is a moot point when the intention is not to save American jobs; rather, to score political points as Election Day nears, and sowing fear is one of the best, time-honored ways to do that. In this case, fear of the “other”, since it is more difficult to place blame on what Trump calls our “invisible enemy”, coronavirus.
If we take a step back, the numbers seem to render this move a sensible one, rather than a purely political one.
Some 22 million Americans have lost their jobs in the past month, and analysts fear the real unemployment rate is closing in on 18%.
And as it stands, the Wall Street Journal reports that nearly half of all states are experiencing double-digit percent losses to cash reserves for unemployment claims. In other words, they may need a bailout just to pay the unemployed.
But here’s where the logic breaks down: If we’re talking about unskilled workers, data shows that while fewer immigrants tends to lead to higher wages for American unskilled workers, it also means companies won’t be able to hire as many based on basic mathematics.
Many U.S. businesses are facing bankruptcy, so suspending immigration means increasing the costs of labor.
Already, leaks are coming in from the sidelines as to the nature of the pending executive order, and farmers may be given a break. Citing three industry sources familiar with the plan, Politico said the suspension would not apply to foreign farm workers, sparing the agriculture industry.
America will also lose the tech war if it bans immigration for specialized workers. In the first 20 days of March alone, when the federal government rolled out a new streamlined H-1B visa process, employers sought to hire 275,000 foreign workers, nearly half of them with advanced degrees from U.S. universities.
As it stands, there is a cap of 85,000. But Silicon Valley needs these workers in order to ensure that America has the top talent in a global technology war that is a game of world dominance.
The bottom line, a suspension across the board of immigration is a political move meant to appease the right people at the right time, ahead of November. In the end, many believe we are likely to see a very watered-down version of this suspension that only pays lip service to a specific voter segment in a time of crisis.
By Charles Benavidez for Safehaven.com
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