Michigan Dems torch Trump for scapegoating immigrants during pandemic

President Donald J. Trump addresses his remarks to the Economic Club of New York Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019, at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York. | Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead via Flickr Public Domain

WASHINGTON — Last week, late on Monday night, President Donald Trump fired off a vague tweet stating that he would temporarily halt U.S. immigration. 

Following widespread confusion about what exactly he planned to do, the executive order Trump signed later in the week temporarily suspended green cards, but includes broad exemptions. Notably, the program would allow for farm workers and other temporary immigrants to enter the country after the administration faced a backlash from business groups. 

Trump depicted the policy as a move to protect public health and U.S. workers during the COVD-19 pandemic. But his critics say it won’t do either of those things, and they’re accusing him of sowing fear and confusion in immigrant communities. 

“It really just seems more political than it seems like serious policy,” U.SS. Rep. Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Twp.) told the Advance in an interview this week. “I see it as him throwing red meat to his base, scapegoating immigrants.” 

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Levin said Trump’s “extreme anti-immigrant policy” has been the most consistent thread throughout his campaign and his tenure in the White House. “Really, Stephen Miller seems to run the country,” Levin said, referring to Trump’s immigration policy adviser. 

Miller told Trump’s supporters during a private conference call that the new executive order — which halts new green cards for 60 days but could be extended —  is part of a broader plan to curb immigration, the New York Times reported

“The first and most important thing is to turn off the faucet of new immigrant labor — mission accomplished — with signing that executive order,” Miller said, according to an audio recording of the call obtained by the Times.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — who has emerged as one of Trump’s most vocal critics during the coronavirus pandemic — was quick to slam the administration’s immigration crackdown. 

Trump’s declaration that he would freeze immigration was “scary,” she told the Associated Press last week. “These broad statements that come out I think are so problematic and counter to I think what we need right now more than anything — which is fact based scientifically proven, best practices and an optimistic vision of where we are headed and the thrust to make it a reality.” 

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The national death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic has surpassed 65,000, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The total of deaths reported in Michigan was 3,866 as of Friday. 

“Thousands of Americans have died, and millions more have lost their jobs,” U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield) wrote last week on Twitter. “Yet the President is trying to distract the public from his complete mismanagement of this crisis by shutting down immigration. Let us not forget that immigrants – the doctors, nurses, home health aides, treating COVID-19 patients and helping us get through this crisis.”

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) told the Advance in a statement that Trump’s move to halt immigration isn’t about safety, but “about continuing his campaign to other and outcast certain communities and it is wrong.” 

Because of the exemptions included in Trump’s order, the impacts won’t be nearly as broad as some immigration advocates and business groups initially feared. But the order could still dramatically curb legal immigration into the country, depending in large part on how long it lasts. 

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Out of the 1.1 million green cards that the United States typically issues each year, about 358,000 would not be approved as long as Trump’s proclamation is in effect, according to Boundless, an immigration law group. 

Among those likely to be most impacted, according to Boundless, are the parents of U.S. citizens applying for green cards from abroad, and other family-based green card applicants. The immigration pause won’t impact green card applicants filing from within the country. Spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens also are exempt. 

Susan Reed, managing attorney at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, said she expects the new policy to have limited impact for the clients her group represents.  

Notably, Reed said, “doors like family-based and humanitarian immigration into the U.S. by the communities we serve have previously been slammed shut by multiple prior administration policies including public charge, the Muslim ban, and the asylum bans.”

Michigan immigration advocates condemned Trump’s new policy in a press call on Thursday.

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“Basically what this does is sends a signal again of the agenda of the president that although he claims that he is in favor of lawful, legal immigration to the United states, that when push comes to shove, he’s against all immigration, including lawful immigration to the United States,” said immigration attorney Richard Kessler. 

“Division is unhelpful,” said Abdul El-Sayed, former executive director of the Detroit Health Department and 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate. “When Donald Trump uses rhetoric like this, he pursues executive orders like this, it is about exacerbating a profound division that is created in our society, telling us that somehow people with different immigration statuses are less human and certainly less American than the rest of us.”

Levin told the Advance that he’s also concerned about the ramifications of Trump’s rhetoric. 

“The power of the president’s bully pulpit is so immense,” Levin said, pointing to Trump previously referring to other nations as “shithole countries” and labeling the coronavirus the “Chinese virus.”

“All of these ways that he ‘others’ people who aren’t white, aren’t European, they have real consequences and we’ve seen a huge uptick in hate crimes [against] Jews, people of color and LGBTQ people, and it’s very damaging to the fabric of our community,” he said.