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Trump’s feeble plan to beat COVID-19? Scapegoat immigrants

Given all that the president and his administration have failed to do in the fight against the coronavirus, this latest foolishness is unconscionable, if entirely predictable.

Cesar, an asylum seeker from Nicaragua, waits earlier this month at the Paso del Norte International Bridge in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, with his wife, Carolina (right) and his 8-year-old son Donovan, as a U.S. Customs and Border agent looks on.
Paul Ratje/AFP via Getty Images

President Donald Trump’s announced plan to suspend immigration is anything but an honest response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is political opportunism at its worst. It is Trump 101 — “the wall” — all over again. It is ugly xenophobia.

We doubt it will work. Only the hopelessly gullible will be taken in.

The coronavirus continues to spread across the country because of person-to-person contact among Americans, not because of an influx of diseased immigrants. Travel in and out of our country has largely dried up anyway, as a result of earlier restrictions imposed by the United States and many other countries.

But Trump has always wanted to shut down immigration, making exceptions for those who are wealthy, non-Muslim, highly skilled or his wife. He and his thuggish adviser on immigration, Stephen Miller, see the pandemic as their chance. It thrills his political base.

Given all that Trump and his administration have failed to do in the fight against the coronavirus, this latest foolishness is unconscionable, if entirely predictable.

Any form of social distancing will slow the onslaught of the virus. Sure, less interaction among people — including by further limiting immigration — will lower the curve of the virus’ spread to some degree. But immigration is far from where the action is.

Trump should be doing all he can to discourage states from phasing out stay-at-home orders. He should be exhorting people to wise up, take the danger of the pandemic seriously and quit congregating in public places. He finally should get serious about leading a national effort to pump up testing for the virus, increase contact tracing and build a stockpile of medical supplies.

Instead, while hundreds of people die each day from COVID-19, Trump remains the biggest obstacle keeping his own administration from doing a credible job. He’s lambasting hard-working governors who are desperate for a federal partner. He’s egging on ignorant protesters who are demanding an immediate end to stay-at-home orders. And he’s beating the drum against immigration again.

Chicago Sun-Times. SOURCE: U.S. Department of Homeland Security

It’s difficult to know what Trump even has in mind with this latest attack on immigration. He announced it with a tweet, true to form, on Monday night: “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!”

And, like so many of Trump’s pronouncements, it could go anywhere or nowhere. His executive order, intended to bar new green-card recipients from entering the country, could be ended in 60 days or extended at his pleasure.

If the president is truly worried about foreigners who have the virus coming into the country, he would simply ban all inbound international flights.

But Trump has always seen bashing immigrants as a winning strategy. It’s the game he plays when all else fails — and all else is failing now. That’s why he attempted to impose a ban on Muslim immigrants early in his presidency. It’s why he put a drastic limit on the number of refugees accepted into the United States each year. It’s why he and other Republicans have pushed so hard for years to end family based immigration.

A statement put out by the White House on Monday suggested that Trump’s chief concern is that immigrants will take jobs from Americans as the nation recovers from the pandemic. But the executive order was not issued as part of any larger strategy to restart the economy, nor is there evidence that immigrants take jobs from others. On the contrary, study after study has shown that immigration has been a boost to the U.S. economy.

Maybe that’s why Trump’s executive order, for all its bluster, reportedly will carve out exceptions for migrant farm workers, health care workers and other “essential” workers.

It appears Trump’s tweet caught many of his own advisers by surprise, another indication that this has nothing to do with stopping a pandemic. He’s just jawboning at a virtual MAGA rally, one tweet at a time.

As a practical matter, we’ll be curious to see how the White House will try to put the kibosh on visas and other green cards for the thousands of people who are preparing to come to the United States at any given time. They are, for the most part, family members of Americans.

Trump desperately wants to look like a leader, though anybody can see that he’s not. The fight against the pandemic is being led by governors. He’s just out there, as always, throwing bombs.

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