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State Department visas for legal immigrants to the U.S. plunged in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, leading critics to fault the administration for its policies on immigration. (Image: Curt Merrill/CNN)

Trump Administration Has Exploited Pandemic to Effectively Shut Down All Immigration: Report

"Beforehand I would say that staying in the U.S. was my first option for my career. Now, being honest, Canada, Europe, and New Zealand and Australia seem like a much better choice."

Eoin Higgins

President Donald Trump's well-established antipathy toward immigrants has gone into overdrive as Covid-19 continues to rage around the world as the White House has used the pandemic to severely restrict visas to the U.S., leaving refugees stranded and leading professionals to consider pursuing their options elsewhere. 

"Beforehand I would say that staying in the U.S. was my first option for my career," Yale PhD student Vitor Possebom told CNN. "Now, being honest, Canada, Europe, and New Zealand and Australia seem like a much better choice."

In an analysis of immigration patterns and the effects of Trump administration decrees and shut-downs of legal ways to enter the country, CNN estimated that the country is seeing a precipitous drop in asylum claims, work visas, and refugee admissions. The Trump era has been marked by drops in immigration and the setting up of hurdles to legal entry but the pandemic has sent those efforts into high gear. 

The ACLU, in a statement in June on the administration's Covid-19 immigration restrictions, put the blame for the rules on Trump and his extremist advisor Stephen Miller. 

"The Trump administration has banned asylum seekers at the border, green card applicants, foreign students, and now even more immigrants, who are instrumental to our nation's economic recovery," the group said. "Congress should immediately investigate the true purpose—and ramifications—of these Stephen Miller bans."

In a tweet referring to the administration's disastrous response to the pandemic and the decline in immigration, journalist Thomas Seymat described the drop in visas as "the only curve they flattened."

As CNN reported:

In a pair of White House immigration proclamations issued in April and June, the administration suspended much of family-based immigration and a number of guest worker visas through the end of the year, with some exceptions. The Migration Policy Institute estimated that some 167,000 temporary workers will be kept out of the United States and 26,000 green cards will be blocked monthly

As a result of the outbreak, consulates overseas had to close, making it nearly impossible for people overseas to obtain visas. Since January, the number of non-immigrant visas issued has plummeted 94%.

"You would expect that during this massive public health and economic crisis that the administration's agenda would be sidelined," Migration Policy Institute policy analyst Sarah Pierce told CNN, "but instead it's been as aggressive if not more aggressive than it's ever been."

Meanwhile, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has ceased printing documents for legal immigrants and green card holders, the Washington Post's Catherine Rampell wrote Thursday, meaning "the Trump administration is turning legal immigrants into undocumented ones."

According to Rampell:

Some 50,000 green cards and 75,000 other employment authorization documents promised to immigrants haven't been printed, USCIS said in a statement. The agency said it had planned to escalate printing but that it "cannot speculate on future projections of processing times." In the event of furloughs—which the agency has threatened if it does not get a $1.2 billion loan from Congress—"all agency operations will be affected."

"The 'show me your papers' administration has literally switched off printers needed to generate those 'papers,'" wrote Rampell.

As Florida immigration attorney Anis Saleh told Rampell, the "overall efficiency of the immigration process" is suffering due to decisions made by the Trump administration—a result that the lawyer suggested was part of the plan.

"The administration has accomplished its goal of shutting down legal immigration without actually changing the law," said Saleh.

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