'You're not welcome': Trump's new immigration ban sows anxiety and confusion in the US

'You're not welcome': Trump's new immigration ban sows anxiety and confusion in the US
Donald Trump has signed an executive order that temporarily suspends immigration into the US, leading to apprehension and fear in communities across America.
5 min read
28 April, 2020
Trump's executive order temporarily suspends immigration for green card holders. [Getty]
With much of the world's movement, including international travel, ground to a halt amid the global Covid-19 pandemic, it might seem like an odd time to impose an immigration ban.

That didn't stop US President Donald Trump from tweeting last week that there would be a ban on immigrants, using the health crisis and the high level of unemployment as a pretext.

"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!"

The president wrote this tweet without any further information, leaving the country to guess what would happen next.  

It wasn't until later in the week that the details of the initiative became clearer. The ban would be temporary, lasting 60 days, and exemptions would be made for seasonal workers, those applying for investor visas and H1-B visas and for those whose paperwork has already been approved.

It would only apply to those seeking green cards. In short, there wouldn't be substantial changes to the current policy.

Read more: How Trump is using coronavirus to push
his white nationalistelection agenda

But the message from the White House was clear: immigrants aren't welcome. It follows a continuing pattern of making immigration to the United States increasingly difficult.

In addition to the widely criticised 2017 Muslim ban, which was quietly passed the following year, new impediments have crept into the paperwork of immigration applicants, including significant increases in the processing fees of immigration paperwork.

"We're seeing more scrutiny. There's a higher bar for immigration, which is confusing for applicants. They don't understand the requirements," Farida Chehata, Immigrants' Rights Managing Attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in California, told The New Arab.

"It's extremely problematic for immigration attorneys. These hurdles impact immigrants applying for visas. It's a continuation of policies that are anti-immigrant. Makes people feel uneasy and unwelcome," he said.

"Many US citizens have immigrant families. There's a lot of apprehension and fear. We don't know what will happen next. There's now concern about birthright citizenship. People are asking: what's next?"

The message from the White House was clear: immigrants aren't welcome

Indeed, within days, the next step appeared to be preventing the spouses of immigrants from receiving stimulus checks from the Covid-19 economic relief package. 

This applies to immigrants who don't yet have social security cards that filed joint tax returns with their US citizen spouse. 

There are currently 1.2 million immigrants married to an immigrant without a social security number. A class-action lawsuit was filed last Friday in Illinois.

Read more: Trump feeds his base with steady dose of xenophobia

The message is clear: immigrants are not considered worthy of economic relief during one of the worst recessions in history, despite comprising a high proportion of frontline workers, many of them not yet documented. 

A Syrian immigrant who is a frontline worker (speaking on condition of anonymity because of his difficult experience with the immigration system and because he does not yet have citizenship) says it took him 11 years to get his green card.

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During this time, he experienced delays in starting his employment due to his paperwork. Still, he describes himself as "beyond blessed." 

He notes that many countries, such as Syria and where he grew up in the Gulf, have no path to citizenship (with the exception of marriage – and only for the wives of male nationals), even if a resident has spent decades living and working there. 

"Compared with 10 years ago, it's a step backwards," he said, stressing that the situation is still better than in many other countries. 

According to California-based immigration lawyer Haitham Ballout, who himself left Lebanon during the 1975-1990 civil war, this latest move is having a psychological impact on his clients, whose circumstances are already difficult.

Some are asylum seekers escaping abusive spouses or trying to repatriate from a dangerous country, or in some cases both.

"A lot of people are calling. Everyone is not happy," he said. "My own clients who are about to get green cards are panicked. Even people who will not be impacted are scared. Of course, people are losing sleep over this."

In addition to the widely criticised 2017 Muslim ban, new impediments have crept into the paperwork of immigration applicants

"It's politics. That's how I see it," he added. "Yes, it will delay people. If you have a work visa, it's not a problem. The biggest impact I see is on older children and siblings. That's not a huge proportion of our immigrants." 

"The reality is the door is still open for a lot of people. They just need a good lawyer," he said. Still, the psychological impact can't be dismissed.

"The international perception is that the US is no longer a destination for immigrants. The psychology is: I don't want to go there anymore," he said.

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"I'm not worried practically," said CAIR California director Hussam Ayloush, whose brother's visa application from Lebanon has already been delayed due to the closures of embassies. 

"There are enough people who remember what happens when certain people demonised. What I'm worried about is the image of America and what happens with the reaction to Covid-19," he said about the new immigration ban.

"He's sending a message: you're not welcome. This causes anxiety of immigrants. That's not what they need. In reality, people aren't traveling anyways. It's not well planned practically but it's deliberate and well planned for pollical gain."

Brooke Anderson is a freelance journalist covering international politics, business and culture

Follow her on Twitter: @Brookethenews