President Donald Trump said on Monday he will suspend all immigration into the United States temporarily through an executive order in response to the coronavirus outbreak and to protect American jobs.
The move, which the Republican president announced on Twitter, 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.
The decision drew swift condemnation from some Democrats, who accused the president of creating a distraction from what they view as a slow and faulty response to the coronavirus.
Trump said he was taking the action to protect the U.S. workforce. Millions of Americans are suffering unemployment after companies shed employees amid nationwide lockdowns to stop the contagion.
“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,” Trump said in a tweet.
The White House declined to offer further details about the reasoning behind the decision, its timing, or its legal basis.
“As our country battles the pandemic, as workers put their lives on the line, the President attacks immigrants & blames others for his own failures,” former Democratic presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar said in a tweet.
Immigration is largely halted into the United States anyway thanks to border restrictions and flight bans put in place as the virus spread across the globe.
But the issue remains an effective rallying cry for Trump’s supporters.
Trump won the White House in 2016 in part on a promise to curb immigration by building a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico. He and his advisers have spent the first three years of his tenure cracking down on both legal and illegal entries into the country. Crowds regularly chant “Build the Wall!” at Trump’s political rallies, which are now idled because of the virus.
Trump has lamented the economic fallout of the outbreak; his stewardship of the U.S. economy was set to be his key argument for re-election in November.
The U.S. death toll from the virus topped 42,000 on Monday, according to a Reuters tally.
The U.S. economy has come to a near standstill because of the pandemic; more than 22 million people applied for unemployment benefits in the last month.