As the world continues to navigate through these unconventional times, the US is set to take any and all remedial steps to bring its country back into normalcy. Slowly, states are beginning to lift bans and prohibitions on social gatherings and non-essential activities, while implementing a step-by-step plan to open up their local economy. Nationally, the US government is ready for the country and its constituents to get back on their feet, while still exercising precaution to prevent further spread of the virus.
Although US officials seem to believe that the worst of the pandemic is behind us, they continue to halt various processes of the immigration system, basically stating, “because of the coronavirus.” Legally, the President has the constitutional power to make discretionary decisions to protect and strengthen national security. It may include making decisions to promote the health and well-being of the US people. However, many advocates are growing concerned that the Trump administration is using the virus as its justification–or facade–to further its objectives of restricting immigration.
For one, the administration continues its disdain on US asylum law as the Department of Justice and Executive Office for Immigration Review released its May 10, 2020, joint statement on the rescheduling of the Migrant Protection Protocol (“MPP”) hearings. It constitutes the fourth statement of postponement for asylum-seekers placed in Mexico awaiting their hearing determining relief. So far, those with scheduled hearings since April 22 have been postponed, at minimum, for two months, making asylum claimants more vulnerable to the instability of the process while forcing them to continue living in violent and dangerous conditions in Mexico. Besides, in-person document service has been stopped, meaning temporary suspension of issuing new tear sheets, which allow people subject to MPP to live and work in Mexico while waiting for their court hearings. The DOJ and DHS consider these actions as their continued effort to “take necessary measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by limiting in-person interaction.” What the executive branch fails to consider is how these actions portray the ignorance towards the lives of asylum seekers, subjecting them to further dangerous and poor conditions after their tremendous journey to the US fleeing persecution.
Even those with legal status within the US live in fear of mistreatment due to government action under pandemic pressures. The President has been receiving pressure by House senators encouraging the restriction of work visas for international students and specialized workers in efforts to curtail the rising unemployment rate of US citizens. Senators argue that restrictions must be put in place as foreign workers are “taking jobs away from Americans.” Furthermore, many individuals with legal status who have lost their jobs and qualify for unemployment benefits refrain from filing, as they fear it may jeopardize their immigration cases. However, the public charge rule does not apply to those renewing their green cards or filing citizenship applications. Despite that fact, immigrants still have the genuine perception that the government will somehow take into account the collection of unemployment benefits and will alter the outcome of their case.
Lastly, millions around the world who anxiously await their fate in the 2021 Diversity Immigration Visa Program must continue to anticipate their outcome. On May 5, 2020, the US Department of State was supposed to disclose the names of those 55,000 selected for permanent resident cards; however, due to the pandemic, the DOS has postponed the application’s availability to verify the visa lottery results. As of now, the results should be available by June 6, 2020, but until then or further postponement, the anticipation of many drags on.
Although these actions (along with many others) that the administration has implemented in response to the virus are legally within the powers of the US President, to what extent is the conduct related to protect US national security and promote the health and safety of US individuals, or in furtherance of restricting the accessibility of legal immigration? As of now, there is no clear line or distinction between the two.