Immigrant rights advocates called on President-elect Joe Biden to swiftly reverse the outgoing administration's xenophobic policies after President Donald Trump on Thursday extended a freeze on green cards and work visas for many foreign applicants through March and after a federal appeals court upheld the president's requirememnt that new immigrants have health insurance.
"This ban has never been about keeping us safe—it was always designed to separate families and target immigrants."
—Karen Tumlin, Justice Action Center
Trump's proclamation will affect family members—but not spouses or children under the age of 21—who are seeking permanent U.S. residency through green card applications filed by American relatives or prospective employers, according to CBS News. People willing to invest at least $1 million in the U.S., as well as some pandemic-related healthcare workers, will also be exempt from the order.
The directive also extends the suspension of the diversity visa lottery, despite a September ruling from a federal judge in Washington, D.C. that ordered the administration to issue visas to 9,000 people who won the lottery in 2020.
Disappointed (but not surprised) to see Trump extend this #ImmigrationBan on his way out the door. The ban has never been about keeping us safe-it was always designed to separate families & target immigrants. We'll continue to fight this ban in court. https://t.co/FH5m7fF3Hz
— Karen Tumlin (@KarenTumlin) December 31, 2020
Under pretext of the Covid-19 pandemic, Trump in April 2020 imposed a ban on green cards issued outside the U.S., a move that largely affected the families of people who had already entered the country. In June, Trump added H-1B, H-2B, J, and L-1 nonimmigrant visa programs to the ban.
H-1B visas are widely used in the tech sector, H-2B visas are issued to nonagricultural seasonal workers, J-1 visas are for cultural exchanges—often for au pairs—and L-1 visas are granted to corporate executives.
The American Immigration Council said the move was "not about public health or the economy," but was rather "another thinly veiled attempt to implement radical changes to our immigration system, and to limit the number of noncitizens who are able to come to the U.S."
Indeed, Trump's proclamation was an extension of his 2017 "Buy American, Hire American" executive order. According to his June directive:
American workers compete against foreign nationals for jobs in every sector of our economy, including against millions of aliens who enter the United States to perform temporary work. But under the extraordinary circumstances of the economic contraction resulting from the Covid-19 outbreak, certain nonimmigrant visa programs authorizing such employment pose an unusual threat to the employment of American workers.
The Times of India reports the extension of the H-1B visa ban will impact a large number of Indian IT professionals, as well as a number of companies in both India and the U.S. According to Knowledge@Wharton, Trump's earlier executive order suspending visas for skilled immigrant workers has cost Fortune 500 companies more than $100 billion in valuation.
However, it's families, not firms, who have been most affected by the president's directives. Thousands of families were stranded or separated by the executive orders, including the Khatters. Mili Widhani Khatter, who lived in the United States with her husband and two U.S.-born children for 12 years before returning alone to Delhi to spend time with her dying mother, was left stranded in India by Trump's order.
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"This is the worst punishment you can give to a mom," Khatter told Bloomberg in June. "It's not humane."
Sindhu Sudhakar, who along with her 7-year-old son was also stranded in India after traveling there to see her ailing mother-in-law in March 2020, has not seen her husband in Dallas since then.
"We were living the American dream," Sudhakar told Agence France-Presse in July. "But now given how volatile the government is, we are rethinking if we even belong there."
In a separate but related development, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Thursday issued a 2-1 ruling (pdf) backing a Trump requirement that all new immigrants demonstrate upon arrival in the U.S. that they have or can obtain health insurance within 30 days and pay for their medical expenses. The policy had not yet taken effect because it was blocked by a lower court in November.
Today, a 9th circuit court panel overturned the injunction on the health care ban. We are deeply disappointed, but relieved that it will not be back in effect immediately. #nohealthcareban https://t.co/0qvGHFd9to
— JusticeActionCenter (@jactioncenter) January 1, 2021
Judge Daniel P. Collins, a Trump appointee, cited Trump v. Hawaii, the U.S. Supreme Court case upholding the president's ban on people from mostly Muslim countries.
However, Judge A. Wallace Tashima—a former child prisoner in a World War II-era U.S. concentration camp for people of Japanese descent—penned a 15-page dissent blasting Trump's proclamation as "a sweeping and unprecedented exercise of unilateral executive power" that "has no nexus to national security, addresses a purely domestic concern (uncompensated healthcare costs), lacks any conceivable temporal limit, and works a major overhaul of this nation's immigration laws without the input of Congress."
Esther Sung, an attorney at the Justice Action Center—an immigration legal advocacy group that in May filed a lawsuit seeking to block the insurance rule—told the Associated Press that the court's ruling "makes clear that the Biden administration must move swiftly to rescind all of President Trump's xenophobic presidential proclamations, including this healthcare ban."
President-elect Joe Biden has promised to reverse some of Trump's most egregious anti-immigrant policies, including imprisoning migrant children in concentration camps and forcing lawful asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico while awaiting ajudication.
However, although Biden vowed to end the Migration Protection Protocols, or "remain in Mexico" policy, on "day one" of his presidency, his advisers recently attempted to temper expectations by warning the new administration would "need time" to reverse the policy.