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'Distraction': Trump restricts immigration into US amid coronavirus outbreak

Trump says decree, which is not total ban on immigration, aims to protect American workers
'This will ensure that unemployed Americans of all backgrounds will be first in line for jobs as our economy reopens,' Trump says
By Ali Harb in Washington

President Donald Trump signed an executive order suspending immigration into the United States for 60 days, saying that he wants to protect American jobs and health-care resources amid the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

Critics were quick to accuse Trump of aiming to create a distraction from his own shortcomings in handling the virus by blaming immigrants.

"Trump has been very consistent in one area over the past six years. Whenever his conduct or actions are under scrutiny, he consistently deflects and distracts," Mohammed Abdrabboh, a civil rights lawyer based in Dearborn, Michigan told MEE. 

The order does not apply to the spouses and young children of US citizens. Medical professionals who can help combat the coronavirus and workers coming into the United States on temporary visas are also exempt from the decree.

'Trump has been very consistent in one area over the past six years. Whenever his conduct or actions are under scrutiny, he consistently deflects and distracts'

- Mohammed Abdrabboh, civil rights lawyer

"I've just signed an executive order temporarily suspending immigration into the United States," Trump said at a news conference on Wednesday. 

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"This will ensure that unemployed Americans of all backgrounds will be first in line for jobs as our economy reopens."

He added that he wants to preserve US health-care resources for Americans. "We have to take care of our patients; we have to take care of our great American workers. And that's what we're doing."

Trump announced his intention to sign the order late on Monday, drawing rebuke from immigration advocates.

The US State Department already suspended visa processing in March because of Covid-19.

'Poor leader'

Abdrabboh said Trump constantly blames "the other" for his own incompetence and missteps. "Banning all immigration accomplishes two things for Trump. One, it deflects from the current crisis; second, it's fodder for his base, the majority of which is anti-immigrant."

Earlier on Wednesday, former secretary of state John Kerry said Trump was issuing the executive order to divert the public's attention from the crisis.

"It's a sideshow. It's an effort to divert. It's also an effort to arm him with an argument he'll make later on -  without a date - that he shut down the border et cetera," Kerry told CNN on Wednesday.

"But that's not solving the problem. That's not where the problem is coming from, and it avoids him having to deal with the fact that we went for almost two months or more without action by the administration to do the things they should have done."

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also accused Trump of being a "poor leader".

"He's engaged in distractions like immigration... They're all distractions away from the known fact that he's a total failure when it comes to testing," she told PBS NewsHour on Tuesday.

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The United States has been hit hard by the virus with almost 40,000 fatalities and 22 million people losing their jobs as a result of the social distancing guidelines, which have brought the American economy to a standstill. 

The executive order itself says it aims to protect "disadvantaged and unemployed Americans".

"The United States faces a potentially protracted economic recovery with persistently high unemployment if labor supply outpaces labor demand," the decree reads. 

'Xenophobic policy'

Immigration advocates have long dismissed the theory that immigrants take American jobs as a myth. In fact, numerous studies show that immigration stimulates the economy and creates jobs.

The Arab American Institute, a Washington-based advocacy group, denounced the executive order, stressing that immigrant labour "contributes a disproportionate percentage to our national output, lifting all Americans with their hard work, creativity and entrepreneurship".

"This is not an economic policy, nor a public health policy - it's a xenophobic policy. The Trump administration has been steadily dismantling the legal immigration system since the first week in office," said AAI executive director Maya Berry.

Trump has made immigration central to his presidential campaign and subsequent presidency. As a candidate he vowed to build a wall across the Mexican border, deport all undocumented immigrants and ban all Muslims from entering the United States.

One of his first decrees as president was to restrict immigration from several Muslim-majority countries. 

On Wednesday, Trump said he may extend or amend the order during or after the 60-day period. 

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