President Donald Trump recently signed an executive order to change the immigration laws currently in effect. The order, which he has described as a temporary measure, suspends the issuance of new green cards under certain circumstances. In tweets and public statements, Trump indicated that the goal of the suspension is to prevent immigrants from accepting employment opportunities that could otherwise be funneled to American citizens who have lost their jobs as the result of the Covid-19 virus.

Who Is Affected By This Order?

The people targeted with this ban include the family members of permanent U.S. residents currently out of the country and all applicants in the lottery system. The issuance of green cards is suspended for 60 days, but the order requires the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Labor to make a recommendation as to whether the order should be continued or modified.

Roughly 20,000 per month seek green cards. The response to Covid-19 has already made the green card process more difficult. Travel bans, as well as the closure of green card processing services in U.S. embassies and consulates are already a reality. USCIS offices are currently closed to the public. That means green card interviews are not being conducted as they normally would be. These interviews are necessary to obtain a green card. These offices are expected to remain closed until June. Even without the executive order, obtaining a green card in the current conditions is a challenge.

If the order were limited to the initial 60-day period, the impact would be minimal. Extensions to the order, however, have the potential to affect millions. The applications currently on hold for Covid-19 are not going to disappear. They will build up, waiting for the appropriate offices to fulfill their duties processing applications. If the order is extended until the economic damage done by this epidemic is over, it will continue for the entirety of Trump’s time in office.

Another Attack On Immigrants And Immigration

On January 27, 2017, Donald Trump signed an executive order restricting immigration rights. The order became known as the Muslim Ban. One week later, a Federal Judge in Seattle issued an order that temporarily blocked the Muslim ban from operating.

On March 6, 2017, Trump signed a new executive order. The second order was a rewritten version of the first, done in an attempt to get around the issues highlighted by the courts when the first ban was halted.

The Muslim Ban targeted people from specific countries. It suspended the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for a minimum of 120 days. It also put in a plan a 90-day ban on immigration from the named countries, all six of which were Muslim-majority.

In June of 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed portions of the Muslim Ban to resume, while narrowing its provisions to exclude people with a bona fide relationship to people already in the U.S.

In September of 2017, Trump signed another executive order to restrict immigration from the six Muslim-majority nations, with North Korea and Venezuela now added, though not all under the same terms.

After significant battles in the lower courts, the third Muslim Ban was upheld in the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2018.

This series of events is instructive for several reasons. It highlights the extreme efforts, and casual concern for the law, that the Trump administration has brought to bear against immigrants and their families. This most recent executive order is a similar attack on immigrants, using Covid-19 as the justification.

The timeline also demonstrates the commitment of the ACLU and other defenders of the Constitution and the rights of immigrants. This new executive order will likely face the same opposition that delayed the Muslim Ban for more than a year.

An Uncertain Proposition

This latest executive order was drafted in haste, so the full impact of the is difficult to determine. The final version did not make good on an early threat from the White House to ban all immigration. The order does not prevent the issuance of temporary work visas.

Green Card Vs. Temporary Visa

Green card is the term often used to describe a Permanent Resident Card. Getting a green card allows the holder to live and work legally in the United States. A green card operates as proof that you are eligible to be employed in the U.S. It also allows the holder to apply for a driver’s license and a Social Security Card.

Green card holders can work in any type of job. They can leave the U.S. and reenter legally, under certain conditions. They can also sponsor other family members for their own green cards. Finally, green card holders have the right to apply for full citizenship after five years.

Temporary visas, which have not been suspended under the executive order, give holders far fewer rights. An H1-B visa allows holders to stay in the U.S. only while working for their sponsoring employer, in the job described to get the visa. If you are fired or take another job, you risk being deported. These visas only work for a set period of time and they do not allow you to leave and re-enter the country with the same freedom as a green card holder.

A Swift Response To The Executive Order

The legal challenges to this latest attack on immigrants have already begun. Several groups, including the American Immigration Lawyers Association, have filed a request for a temporary restraining order that would prevent the application of the ban until the courts have had a chance to review its legality. If the preliminary injunction is granted, it will provide more time for the defenders of immigrant rights to protect the people they serve. Further lawsuits are likely in the works as more visa applicants see their rights threatened by this executive order.