Originally published by The Washington Post
President Trump has led the United States to catastrophic defeat in the battle against a virus. The United States has more confirmed coronavirus cases (800,000-plus) and more deaths (43,000-plus) than any other country. Indeed, New York state alone has more confirmed cases than any foreign country.
So having lost the war against what he calls the “Invisible Enemy,” Trump has decided to shift our attention toward the battle against a visible enemy: immigrants. Even as he is encouraging the economy to reopen as soon as possible, Trump has decided to close down immigration. He tweeted on Monday night: “In light of the attack from the Invisible Enemy, as well as the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens, I will be signing an Executive Order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States!”
This is a familiar maneuver from Trump’s xenophobic playbook. He mobilizes his supporters and “triggers” his enemies by scapegoating immigrants for whatever ails the nation — and those ailments are as severe as they have been in a century. Everyone knows what he is talking about and what he is doing. He is not trying to keep out Slovenian fashion models but, rather, the inhabitants of “shithole countries” who are full of people who aren’t “white.” It is obscene at any time, but all the more so now when the coronavirus crisis is proving just how much we depend on immigrants.
An analysis by the research organization New American Economy shows that, while immigrants constitute 17 percent of the U.S. workforce, they are “more than one in four doctors, nearly half the nation’s taxi drivers and chauffeurs and a clear majority of farm workers.” Roughly a third of all nurses in California, New York and New Jersey — three of the states hardest hit by the coronavirus — are immigrants. In all, the Cato Institute reports, we rely on nearly 1.7 million foreign‐born workers to provide medical and health care, 900,000 to grow our food, and 1.5 million more to deliver and distribute food and supplies.
In the midst of this crisis, we need more foreign-born doctors and nurses than ever. On March 24, Trump’s own secretary of health and human services, Alex Azar, called on governors “to take immediate action” to waive restrictions that keep foreign-born physicians waiting far too long to practice medicine here. (It took my uncle, a neurologist who emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1975, four years to win accreditation as a physician in California.) At the same time, the State Department encouraged foreign medical professionals to apply for visas even as routine visa services were being suspended.
Now Trump is telling immigrants they are not welcome. The State Department processed roughly 460,000 immigration visas last year, many for relatives of U.S. citizens. The details of Trump’s executive order remain unclear (the Wall Street Journal reports there may be exemptions for migrant farmworkers and health-care workers), but he is leaving hundreds of thousands of aspiring Americans — many of them future doctors and nurses — in a cruel legal limbo.
This directive is dismaying but hardly surprising coming from the most racist and nativist president in modern memory. Even before the coronavirus hit, Trump had banned immigration from 13 countries; cut refugee admissions to the lowest levels in 40 years; and imposed a “public charge” rule that denies permanent residency to immigrants who take advantage of public benefits.
Since the coronavirus struck, Trump has banned virtually all foreign nationals from coming here. Few people are going anywhere anyway in the middle of a pandemic. But there is no justification for stopping the immigration process. All you have to do is test new arrivals for the coronavirus.
Our country is not “full,” as Trump insisted last year, and there is no credible evidence that immigration increases unemployment or depresses wages for the native-born. We are in desperate need of immigrants to fill both high-end and low-end jobs. The National Science Foundation reports that more than half of the United States’ doctorate holders in engineering, computer science and mathematics are foreign-born. These are the brainiacs whose innovations are powering our information economy.
Of even greater immediate concern is the fact that so many medical researchers — nearly 40 percent of all medical/life scientists — are foreign-born. Cato reports that between 2010 and 2019, the Department of Labor approved “more than 11,000 hires of foreign workers specifically at the eight major U.S. companies researching coronavirus cures and treatments.” One example of many: Andre Kalil is a principal investigator in trials of coronavirus drugs. He works at the University of Nebraska Medical Center but was born in Brazil.
By stopping all immigration to a nation of immigrants, Trump is doing incalculable damage to our public health, economic well-being and national character. But from his perspective, that is a small price to pay for energizing his nativist base. The white-nationalist group VDare tweeted that it will “never stop giving President Trump credit for this moment.” If he is winning credit from racists, he is earning discredit from the rest of us.