On April 22, President Donald Trump issued a proclamation that nominally suspends immigration and the issuance of green cards (Permanent Resident Cards) for 60 days, effective on April 24.
The purpose of the proclamation, according to the Trump administration, is to protect jobs. The idea is that once Trump has successfully and dangerously rushed to reopen the economy, he wants to give priority to U.S. citizens who are looking for new jobs.
This premise, of course, is deeply flawed. This article will not only elaborate on how this is flawed from a legal perspective, but it will also explain the real political purpose behind the presidential proclamation.
In the face of widespread strikes and growing working-class unity amidst a pandemic that will hurt the poor, working and oppressed peoples the most, Trump and his capitalist buddies are attempting to pit workers of different countries against each other. This is part of Trump’s maneuvers to ensure his re-election.
How does the presidential proclamation accomplish this? First, let’s go right to the source and examine the proclamation itself:
In the administration of our Nation’s [sic] immigration system, we must be mindful of the impact of foreign workers on the United States labor market, particularly in an environment of high domestic unemployment and depressed demand for labor. […]
I have determined that, without intervention, the United States faces a potentially protracted economic recovery with persistently high unemployment if labor supply outpaces labor demand. Excess labor supply affects all workers and potential workers, but it is particularly harmful to workers at the margin between employment and unemployment, who are typically “last in” during an economic expansion and “first out” during an economic contraction. […]
Furthermore, lawful permanent residents, once admitted, are granted “open-market” employment authorization documents, allowing them immediate eligibility to compete for almost any job, in any sector of the economy. There is no way to protect already disadvantaged and unemployed Americans [sic] from the threat of competition for scarce jobs from new lawful permanent residents by directing those new residents to particular economic sectors with a demonstrated need not met by the existing labor supply. […] Moreover, introducing additional permanent residents when our healthcare resources are limited puts strain on the finite limits of our healthcare system at a time when we need to prioritize Americans [sic] and the existing immigrant population. In light of the above, I have determined that the entry, during the next 60 days, of certain aliens as immigrants would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.
There is a lot wrong here, including the idea that there wasn’t unemployment and under-employment before the coronavirus pandemic. But if we want to sift through and find the primary inaccuracy, it’s that “lawful permanent residents are granted open-market employment authorization documents, allowing them immediate eligibility to compete for almost any job, in any sector of the economy.”
In reality, you don’t actually need a green card to lawfully work in the United States. In fact, most immigrants receive work permits while their green card application is still in process. Alternatively, immigrants and refugees applying for asylum — many of whom are fleeing countries torn to shreds by U.S. war or intervention — can also apply for work permits while their asylum application is processing. And these are only two of the ways you can work legally without ever obtaining a green card.
So if the proclamation doesn’t actually prevent competition in the job market, then what does it do? Nominally, it suspends and limits the entrance of “aliens” as immigrants. However, it’s the exceptions that help us to draw out what the proclamation really does. Exempt from its terms are people who are:
- filing for green cards while already living in the U.S.;
- coming to the U.S. on temporary work or travel visas;
- filing for a visa extension;
- changing temporary visa status;
- applying for an EB-5 investor green card (more on this later);
- members of the U.S. armed forces and their families;
- deemed to have skills or knowledge in the national interest;
- important in helping U.S. law enforcement;
- prospective adoptees;
- seeking asylum; and
- Iraqi or Afghan nationals who have worked for the U.S. government.
The reality is that the majority of people seeking immigration relief are not affected as long as the proclamation stays effective and is actually enforced for the promised 60 days.
Immigration law analysts have projected that if the proclamation is prolonged, the number of green cards issued would fall by 31 percent. Additionally, the order will favor immigrants from Western Europe, blocking a higher percentage of immigrants from Africa, Asia, and Central and South America — revealing, further, the racist character of the proclamation.
It’s worth noting that this is a presidential proclamation, not an executive order. Presidential proclamations, in theory, have the same legal force as an executive order, but are generally not enforceable, since proclamations are considered to be ceremonial only.
Also of note is that the employment-based green card category permitted to continue is the EB-5 immigrant investor program, which allows wealthy applicants to receive green cards if they make financial investments in the U.S. This is a program that has historically been rife with scandals and has directly benefited Trump’s son-in-law, the slumlord Jared Kushner.
For now, it’s really that no employment or family-based green cards will be issued to people outside of the U.S., except for families of naturalized or born citizens. But for those it affects, who have been waiting years to decades to be reunited with their families, it means they will have to wait longer still while the executive order is in effect.
But this is redundant, anyway. In March, the State Department halted visa processing at consulates and embassies, leaving many in limbo. The northern and southern borders of the U.S. are already closed, and travel from China and Europe was already restricted. Most migrants, immigrants, and refugees cannot travel to the U.S. anyway. In other words, the executive order only rehashes the current conditions and pushes them only a tiny step further.
Democratic Party types would probably criticize Trump for his ignorance of the immigration system, adding another item to the laundry list of reasons why the president is incompetent. The Marxist perspective, however, does not underestimate the level of organization of the commanding heights of the state. Whether or not this comes from ignorance of the immigration system is actually immaterial. What is more important is that the executive order is rife with contradictions, and through these contradictions we are able to draw out its real purpose.
So if the executive order doesn’t accomplish its stated purpose of preventing job competition between citizens and noncitizens, and if it doesn’t cut immigration much further than the existing circumstances already do — then what does it do?
Again, it’s immaterial whether or not the Trump administration understands its own immigration system. What is material is that many people do not. The majority of people in the U.S. will never experience the immigration system and to them, Trump’s executive order might as well fully halt all immigration. And who could be more overjoyed about this than the anti-immigrant, ultra-racist, ultra-conservative right wing? And who would benefit more from a divided working class more than Trump and the rest of his exploiting ruling class?
It is clear that Trump issued this executive order to the delight of his ultra-racist supporters and to the benefit of his fellow billionaire bosses and CEOs. It serves only to solidify his support from these sectors. It also serves to keep immigrant labor available for the bosses to exploit for lower wages.
The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the inability of capitalism and imperialism to provide the masses anything for any purpose beyond profits. Trump wants to rush everyone back to work at great and lethal risk because he understands his class needs workers to extract profits. At the same time, workers are realizing just how essential their role is in running society, and understanding that they have the power to refuse to die for it.
But that means that now, more than ever, we should assert the rights of the poor, working and oppressed peoples of all countries to travel, work and enjoy all the rights afforded to U.S. citizens, as well as the right to food, housing and health care. We should also assert the rights of all the poor, working people and oppressed to refuse unsafe working conditions and to fight for their lives.