WASHINGTON, D.C. -- President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced that he would be signing an executive order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States. The president said the suspension would be 60 days and would only apply to those seeking green cards.
The president noted in his Tuesday press briefing that the suspension was motivated by helping unemployed Americans find jobs as the country reopens.
"It would be wrong and unjust for Americans laid off by the virus to be replaced by new immigrant labor flown in from abroad," the president said, also noting how the measure would help to conserve medical resources for citizens and "protect the solvency of our health care system."
While immigration itself had not yet been suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is a process that has been made more difficult due to travel restrictions and closures at the Canada and Mexico borders.
The announcement comes as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States approaches 800,000, sitting just over 786,000 as of April 20. More than 42,000 people have died in the United States from COVID-19, according to the most recent data from Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
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On March 18, in response to the pandemic, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services branch of the Department of Homeland Security had suspended routine in-person services, but said it would "continue to perform mission critical duties that do not involve contact with the public," according to an announcement from the organization.
Thousands of immigrants had been deported amid the pandemic, prompting fears that some who have COVID-19 may continue to infect more in their home countries, according to the New York Times.
Last week, the president had unveiled new guidelines for governors on reopening areas in their states where the number of coronavirus cases was dropping.
It was reported last week that California will be the first state to give cash to immigrants living in the country illegally who are hurt by the coronavirus, offering $500 apiece to 150,000 adults who were left out of the $2.2 trillion stimulus package approved by Congress.
Many Americans began receiving $1,200 checks from the federal government this week, and others who are unemployed are getting an additional $600 a week from the government that has ordered them to stay home and disrupted what had been a roaring economy.
But people living in the country illegally are not eligible for any of that money, and advocates have been pushing for states to fill in the gap. Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he would spend $75 million of taxpayer money to create a Disaster Relief Fund for immigrants living in the country illegally.
“We feel a deep sense of gratitude for people that are in fear of deportations that are still addressing essential needs of tens of millions of Californians,” said Newsom, who noted 10% of the state’s workforce are immigrants living in the country illegally who paid more than $2.5 billion in state and local taxes last year.
Senate Republican Leader Shannon Grove said Newsom should spend the money instead on food banks, equipment for students to continue their education online and local governments struggling with revenue losses.
"Instead of meeting these urgent needs, Governor Newsom has chosen to irresponsibly pursue a left-wing path and unilaterally secured $125 million for undocumented immigrants,” said Grove, who represents Bakersfield.
California has an estimated 2.2 million immigrants living in the country illegally, the most of any state, according to the Pew Research Center. State officials won't decide who gets the money. Instead, the state will give the money to a network of regional nonprofits to find and vet potential recipients. Advocates say that's key to making the plan work because immigrants are unlikely to contact the government for fear of deportation.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.