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With Looming Executive Order, Immigrant Advocates Say Trump is Using Coronavirus to Restrict Immigration

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The following article was originally published April 22, 2020, and republished through a collaboration with KPCC and LAist.

Story by Robert Garrova

President Donald Trump is expected to issue an executive order further halting immigration, citing a need to protect the jobs of American citizens.

But local immigrant advocates said they believe the administration is using the COVID-19 crisis as an excuse to further tighten already strict immigration rules.

Trump said during a White House coronavirus task force briefing Tuesday afternoon that the forthcoming order would temporarily affect people who are seeking legal residency, including employment-based green cards.

Los Angeles immigration attorney Alma Rosa Nieto said employers in L.A. are worried that the restrictions could prevent some of their workers from staying permanently in the United States.

"Employees that are maybe trying to get a green card, I think their hopes and dreams have been demolished," said Nieto, a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Trump said Tuesday that the forthcoming order would be in effect for 60 days but could be extended and that "any extension or modification will be evaluated by economic conditions at the time."

He also said the order would not affect those entering on a temporary basis.

Pedestrians crossing from Mexico into the United States at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry wait in line on Dec. 10, 2015. | Denis Poroy/AP
Pedestrians crossing from Mexico into the United States at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry wait in line on Dec. 10, 2015. | Denis Poroy/AP

The New York Times reported that the administration does not plan to block guest workers, such as temporary farm and tech industry workers, as a concession to business groups that were upset after Trump tweeted late Monday that he would "temporarily suspend immigration."

U.S. citizens would still be allowed to sponsor their spouses and children, the Times reported, but other green card seekers would be blocked.

The Trump administration has long sought to curtail family-sponsored migration. A 2017 Trump-backed bill known as the RAISE Act sought to eliminate most categories of family-sponsored immigrant visas, with the exception of spouses and minor children.

It's unclear if U.S. citizens will be able to sponsor their adult children once an order is signed and takes effect, and this has naturalized citizens like 78-year-old Jose Amaya worried.

In December, Amaya filed a petition for his eldest son, 58, to come to the United States from Mexico. Amaya, who became a U.S. citizen last year, said he suffers from diabetes, needs eye surgery, and would like for his eldest son to be his caretaker.

"My fear is that really, I need the support of my son very much," Amaya said in Spanish. "Because I am getting older, I am a senior citizen, and my son is the one who can help me. This is my fear, that now we won't be able to do anything."

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Trump administration has put in place numerous immigration restrictions, such as pausing refugee admissions, freezing some visa services and limiting travel across the U.S.-Mexico border.

"It's definitely become more difficult for individuals to unify with family members," said Farida Chehata, managing attorney for immigrant rights with the Orange County office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "We've been seeing policies that are very problematic for a while now, but what's happening with this pandemic is that this administration has been able to exploit this public health crisis to be able to really curtail the rights of immigrants."

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