On Monday, April 20, President Trump tweeted, “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 suspend immigration into the United States temporarily!” A few days later, the President issued that order. The Washington Post video below describes their plan.
Trump senior policy adviser Stephen Miller told White House supporters in a private call this week that the president’s new executive order curbing immigration will usher in the kind of broader long-term changes to American society he has advocated for years, even though the 60-day measures were publicly characterized as a “pause” during the coronavirus pandemic.
While some have argued that the Executive Order is meant to protect American workers in face of a sharp economic downturn, Miller’s comments raise several fundamental questions about U.S. immigration policy:
What are the goals of the Executive Order? In a global health crisis, what is our responsibility to people on the move? The President wants to suspend immigration in this crisis. Is it ever morally, legally, and ethically right to suspend our immigration laws and treaty obligations? If so, under what conditions and for how long? How should we weigh the President’s past rhetoric about immigrants and proposals about immigration as we consider our responses? How should our responses be informed by the historic responses to immigrants and those perceived as outsiders?
In fact, historian Erika Lee notes that in different periods in our history, immigrant groups have been associated with danger, disease, crime, and other harmful stereotypes. During the COVID-19 Pandemic, this has been playing out again. The language used by political leaders and some media figures has been interpreted by some as encouraging anti-Chinese and anti-xenophobia and hate. These attitudes have motivated over 1500 attacks on Asian-Americans between January and April of 2020. Harassment has spread online as well.
In the following interview from PRI’s The World, Marco Werman speaks to Erika Lee for perspective on COVID-19 related xenophobia. The interview begins with this introduction:
The novel coronavirus pandemic has already prompted the Trump administration to close borders and turn away asylum-seekers without sufficient processing. On Monday, President Donald Trump tweeted that he would suspend immigration to the US.
That statement was later clarified as a plan to temporarily halt giving foreigners permanent residence in the United States, which Trump claims will protect American workers during the coronavirus pandemic…
Critics say the president’s announcement is a move to take advantage of the coronavirus crisis to implement a long-sought policy goal ahead of this year’s presidential election. Business groups expressed opposition to Trump’s plan on Tuesday, arguing it would only further depress the economy
Among the efforts to stop the spread of racism in response to COVID-19 is a video series created by The Immigrant History Initiative. The short videos they have created are part of a social media campaign putting responses to the COVID-19 crisis within the context of US history.
Use the following questions to evaluate President Trump’s Executive Order:
Is this an appropriate response?
Consider doing outside research to relect the goals of the order. Review the President’s words, information about Miller’s phone call, and additional context provided by journalists.
In a global health crisis, what is our responsibility to people on the move?
The President wants to suspend immigration in this crisis. Is it ever morally, legally, and ethically right to suspend our immigration laws and treaty obligations?
If so, under what conditions and for how long? How should we weigh the President’s past rhetoric about immigrants and proposals about immigration as we consider our responses?
How should White House Advisor Miller’s comments influence our understanding of the purpose of the initiative?
Reflection on the PRI interview with Marco Werman and Erika Lee:
How do you explain the rise of xenophobia in times of crisis?
Do situations like the COVID-19 pandemic create stereotypes or do people’s responses to the crisis build on pre-existing stereotypes or both?
What role can leaders play to prevent and reduce crisis-related outbreaks of xenophobia?
Lee comments that “there’s a palpable sense of fear now that we’re all supposed to wear masks out in public. There is a racialized image of an Asian person in a mask that is quite different than any other type of person wearing a medical mask.” Marco Werman responds, “I had not even thought about that mask aspect to all of it.” And then, Lee replies, “I certainly feel very self-conscious now wearing a mask outside.” Take a moment to reflect on that exchange using the following thinking routine:
What do you see or hear going on?
What are you feeling?
What are you thinking?
What might you be wondering about?
Lee explains, “we’re seeing xenophobia sort of spread out into the streets and into our neighborhoods and on our subways, one of the things that we can all do is stop it. We need to be those bystanders who don’t just look away, but actually take action to intervene and to protect those who are vulnerable.” What can you do to stop xenophobia? What can others in your community do? What is the impact of xenophobia when it isn’t addressed?
What is the message of the Immigrant History Initiative video? What do they want people to know? What do they hope people will do after watching the video?