How Will COVID Impact Immigration in Chicago?

As COVID-19 continues to affect Chicago and the rest of the country in many different ways, President Trump has also announced that he would sign an executive order in response to the outbreak, temporarily suspending U.S. immigration.

The move comes as the Trump administration works to progress certain policies that restrict immigration, including a policy preventing asylum seekers from gaining entry into the country.

The decision had raised many questions around the exact scope and timing of the move, along with other issues pertaining to the order.

What the Executive Order Means for Immigration in Chicago and the Rest of the U.S.

President Trump announced on Twitter on April 20: “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 announcement came in light of his expressed optimism around the potential reopening of states’ economies amid the outbreak, and it’s been met with criticism as it could bring with it certain legal issues. The specific terms of the order are also vague, leading to much speculation around what it means for immigrants in Chicago and the rest of the country in these already uncertain times.

The tweet didn’t provide any information around when the suspension would go into effect or its duration. However, the move attracted criticism from groups fighting for immigration rights along with many others, as Trump continues to detract focus from the coronavirus and redirect it, or use it in his favor, to help forward his political agenda.

Halting H-1B Visas

In June, Trump temporarily suspended H-1B and other visas enabling foreigners to work in the U.S., which seemed to be the culmination of the April tweet. 

Specifically, the executive order worked to halt the approval and issuance of H-1B work visas and green cards for immigrants seeking employment in the U.S. According to an official with the Trump administration who spoke to CNN back in April, the order would temporarily restrict certain work visas for around 120 days in an attempt to provide relief for concerns around unemployment pertaining to the outbreak. 

While certain elements of the order are unclear, such as the legal authorities that Trump will depend on and other specifics, it’s expected that the order will provide some exemptions for health care providers and farmworkers, along with other workers who are considered to be “essential.”

The move to ban worker visas and prevent the issuance of green cards would prevent up to around 525,000 foreign workers from entering the country until 2021, according to The New York Times. This would affect Chicago in addition to many other large cities that depend on foreign workers.

Continuing Controversial Restrictions

Speaking about the order in April, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany focused on the implications the suspension would have on employment.

Critics of the order are claiming that the administration wants to redirect negative attention on immigrants as it works to reopen parts of the nation through the progression of various phases.

What is surprising to many about the order is that the president’s tweet in April came within weeks of discussing the virus’s impact on the U.S., specifically around the nation passing the peak number of predicted deaths. Trump has encouraged protesters going against nationwide stay-at-home orders and pushed toward reopening the economy.

A Struggling Economy

As a result of the pandemic and subsequent shut down across the U.S., around 22 million citizens have filed for unemployment. The closure of businesses and the economic downturn have hurt Trump’s central platform, coming after his administration’s promise to develop a strong economy.

In many instances, Trump has thrown criticism and threats that are unrelated to the pandemic and has pushed toward adjourning Congress to place his own appointees in vacant positions. These actions come soon after he downplayed the outbreak earlier this year and testing rollout was delayed.

As the economy continues to struggle, critics claim that Trump is attempting to place the blame on immigrants and others as he works to distract people from the skyrocketing unemployment rate and economic instability. He has also placed blame on governors and even the Obama administration for the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other critical supplies amid the pandemic.

It’s still unclear precisely how the recent order will affect immigration in Chicago and other major cities and states, but the suspension may not have a significant impact considering there are already restrictions in place preventing travel to and from other countries. However, the outbreak is having an overall negative effect on immigration in the U.S., as many operations are still temporarily discontinued.