Opinion

MEHLMAN: Executive Order On Immigration Does Little To Aid Reeling American Workers

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Ira Mehlman Media Director, FAIR
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Americans woke up to dual headlines last Thursday: 4.4 million Americans filed first-time unemployment claims, bringing the five-week job loss total to 26 million, and President Trump signed an Executive Order temporarily halting immigration to the United States.

One headline was true, while the other one wasn’t. Sadly, the epic job losses resulting from the coronavirus crisis continues unabated. And, regrettably, the Executive Order that President Trump signed late Wednesday which, in the president’s words, is intended to “ensure that American workers of all backgrounds will be first in line for jobs as our economy reopens,” does nothing of the kind.

When President Trump first signaled his intent to respond to the economic and unemployment crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, it seemed to be guided by the clear logic that the last thing an economy in freefall needs is a continued influx of some 90,000 immigrants each month, most of whom would presumably need jobs. The same logic would dictate that the president would hit the pause button on a variety of guest worker programs in response to massive job losses happening right now, and the imperative of filling jobs with laid-off Americans as the economy gradually reopens.

In a country that has been deeply divided about most political issues in recent years, the logic of a temporary halt to all immigration was supported by 79 percent of the American public. Moreover, the support for an immigration pause in response to the global health and economic crises cut across all party, ideological and demographic lines.

Clear logic and overwhelming public support, however, did not carry the day. Within 24 hours of announcing his intention to curtail immigration in the name of assisting American workers, those plans were scuttled. According to The New York Times, the president “backed away from plans to suspend guest worker programs after business groups exploded in anger at the threat of losing access to foreign labor” (emphasis added). Likewise, the order exempts employment-based green card applicants who are already in the United States on temporary worker visas.

In other words, the Executive Order that was billed as a mechanism to protect American workers exempts the people who are being admitted or seeking to adjust status for the explicit purpose of taking jobs in this country! Perhaps most tellingly, one of the president’s harshest critics, Frank Sharry, president of the business-funded mass immigration advocacy group America’s Voice, seemed unperturbed by the order. “This announcement is more about grabbing a headline than changing immigration policy,” Sharry said.

The president, who is known to turn on a dime, needs to turn on a dime again and listen to the American people, especially the 26 million who have lost their jobs over the past five weeks, rather than the Marie Antoinettes on Wall Street and corporate boardrooms who threw a tantrum over losing access to foreign workers while they are laying off American workers at a rate of about 5 million a week.

Thankfully, the order leaves the door open for the president to address guest worker programs. “Within 30 days of the effective date of this proclamation, the Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, shall review [guestworker programs] and shall recommend to me other measures appropriate to stimulate the United States economy and ensure the prioritization, hiring, and employment of United States workers,” it reads.

Why do his agency heads even need 30 days to determine what we already know about cheap foreign labor flowing into the country? The modification can and should begin immediately, and it should begin with the suspension of all guest worker admissions and employment-based adjustments of status, with the exception of health care workers who are directly involved in fighting the coronavirus pandemic. That other headline last Thursday, the one about another 4.4 million Americans losing their jobs, is all the justification the president needs.

President Trump prides himself on keeping his promises. His promise that American workers must go to the head of the line when America once again opens for business is one that four out of five Americans fully expect him to fulfill.

Ira Mehlman is media director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).