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Using the coronavirus to keep out immigrants will hurt the economy

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The use of executive branch power to wage a war on immigrants is one of the defining legacies of President Trump. He went on the offensive under the disguise of the coronavirus pandemic to advance his policy priority to significantly restrict legal immigration to the United States. This politically motivated maneuver violates federal and international law, and this is also morally reprehensible and disastrous for the domestic economy at home.

Noting new “public health concerns,” Customs and Border Protection started expelling migrants from the country, including unaccompanied children, back to Mexico without determining if they were fleeing from persecution and eligible to apply for asylum. Even in a crisis, summarily sending individuals back to their possible deaths breaches both federal and international law. The Justice Department is also seeking to change the law to deny asylum and other humanitarian protections for people “infected with a communicable disease of public health significance.”

Citing the coronavirus concerns and efforts to protect job growth, Trump issued an executive order to halt new green cards. He originally tweeted that he would completely stop all legal immigration to the United States. Outrage from businesses resulted in allowing temporary guest workers. This move still means that thousands of individuals approved to reunite with their families or be hired for high skilled jobs will be left stranded.

This is in addition to his other executive orders, including severely limited entry of noncitizens, travel bans on numerous countries, a suspension of the refugee resettlement program, mass deportations of people residing in the country, reduced protections for vulnerable individuals like women fleeing from violence and human trafficking victims, and the targeting of naturalized citizens and people with valid visas. Significantly restricting immigration means highly skilled immigrants, who are beneficial to the economy, will then be unable to work and contribute to the labor force.

The health care system needs immigrant labor. Immigrants compromise 18 percent of the health care labor force. They typically work longer and later shifts than their native born colleagues. According to the Institute of Medicine, more than 3 million new health care workers will be needed by 2030, and the elderly population of this country is expected to double by 2050. With a significant portion of the native born population aging and their participation in the labor market declining, immigrant contributions are essential to meeting our health care demands now and in the future.

It is not just health care that needs immigrants. A recent study found that the majority of economic growth between 2011 and 2016 is due to greater labor supply due to immigration. Immigrants also assist the country with innovation. They are twice as likely to start a business, to receive a Nobel Prize or Academy Award, or to receive a patent than native born workers.

Denying protection to individuals fleeing persecution based on potential public health grounds sends dangerous signals to oppressors and rogue nations that they are free to act with impunity because powerful nations are unwilling to protect their victims. Refugees searching for protection are built in the collective responsibility of the international community, even in any period of public crisis. Efforts by the president to renounce these duties are morally wrong and politically dangerous for the world.

Waging a war on immigrants will not protect us from the coronavirus. It instead puts individuals fleeing harm in further danger and weakens the economy of the United States. Immigrants are part of the solution to the challenges we face today and should be welcomed rather than banned.

Erin Corcoran serves as the executive director for the Kroc Institute of International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

Tags Coronavirus Donald Trump Government Immigration Medicine President

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