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EDITORIAL

America closes its doors on the world

In his effort to get reelected, President Trump is running out of foreigners to shun. Ending asylum and banning immigrant visas are the latest travesties.

President Donald Trump takes the stage for his campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla., June 20.
President Donald Trump takes the stage for his campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla., June 20.Doug Mills/NYT

It’s been clear for a while that President Trump is a one-trick pony when it comes to immigration: Just ban ’em all, legal or not.

And the president is taking full advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to further his restrictionist immigration agenda.

According to one count, the Trump administration has issued more than 40 immigration-related policy changes since the COVID-19 crisis began. Only a few of these changes are based on legitimate public health concerns. More than half of them have no expiration date, showing he’s merely using the crisis as a pretext. Some of the changes include: the immediate removal of all asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors looking for protection at the US-Mexico border; an indefinite suspension on all refugee resettlement to the United States; and a pause on the issuance of certain categories of employment-based immigrant visas.

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One of the most worrisome changes is the elimination of our current asylum system. Last week, the Trump administration quietly filed sweeping new rules making it harder for foreign victims of persecution to claim asylum at the border, pandemic or no pandemic.

These proposed regulations, detailed in a 161-page document and subject to a 30-day public comment period, amount to a clear abdication of America’s humanitarian tradition of welcoming the most vulnerable populations, like women and children fleeing severe domestic violence and LGBTQ asylum-seekers facing deadly persecution. The rules dramatically aim to redefine the meaning of asylum, creating new standards that amount to insurmountable barriers.

Some of the rules are illegal, according to immigration law experts. The move “bans asylum to anyone who has been in the United States for more than a year, with no exceptions, despite Congress clearly providing exceptions,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel at the American Immigration Council, via Twitter.

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But Trump’s war on immigrants under the guise of COVID-19 is being fought on many fronts. On Tuesday, he announced an extension of an order he issued in April banning certain immigrants from coming to the United States on the basis of employment, including the issuance of new H-1B, H-2B, L, or J visas, among other restrictions. The ban is valid through December.

This mainly affects immigrants workers in the tech, manufacturing, and hospitality industries. The White House has justified this move as a way to protect American workers who are facing high levels of unemployment in the wake of the pandemic crisis. A senior official in the Trump administration told the AP that the White House expects the new visa restrictions will free roughly 500,000 jobs for Americans.

“What the president has always done is that he’s tried to tell his voters that there’s somebody else to blame for what’s happening in their lives,” said Ali Noorani, president and CEO of the National Immigration Forum. “And his most consistent target has been immigrants. But immigration is not the enemy; COVID-19 is the enemy.”

Even the president’s Republican allies on Capitol Hill decried the move.

“This decision, in my view, will have a chilling effect on our economic recovery at a time we should be doing all we can to restore the economy,” said Senator Lindsey Graham via a Twitter thread. “Legal immigration is a positive for the American economy, and visa programs allowing American companies to secure qualified, legal labor throughout the world have benefitted economic growth in the United States.”

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It bears repeating: Banning immigrant workers — such as computer programmers, seasonal workers in the hospitality industry, and au pairs working as childcare providers in a cultural exchange program — will only undermine our country’s ability to bounce back from the economic crisis. Restricting H-1B visas is particularly harmful, since the program has proved to be one of the most successful for its positive impact on our economy. “Research shows that H-1B workers complement US workers, fill employment gaps in many STEM occupations, and expand job opportunities for all,” according to a report from the American Immigration Council.

The Trump administration is using COVID-19 as a pretext to ban all kinds of foreigners and trying to enshrine these changes regardless of what happens in November. That should worry us all. The massive bureaucracy that is America’s immigration system is not a switch that can be flipped on and off at will. If presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden wins the election, simply undoing the damage Trump has done to the immigration system will be one of his most urgent and daunting tasks.


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.