So we’re just shutting down immigration entirely

Am I the only that’s shocked to learn that we hadn’t done this already? I’d sort of assumed that bringing more people into the country while we’re locked down would be, well… not an ideal situation, even if we had the resources to test every one of them and quarantine them for a couple of weeks. But apparently the President is getting around to it this week. Trump announced last night that he’ll be temporarily suspending all immigration (the legal kind) while we ride out the novel coronavirus storm. (Fox News)

President Trump announced late Monday he will soon sign an executive order “to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States” in a drastic escalation of his efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic and boost the economy.

The declaration came hours after U.S. equity markets crashed, with oil prices turning negative for the first time in history.

“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 tweeted.

We already had an agreement with both Mexico and Canada to suspend all nonessential travel across both borders, as well as a travel ban applying to people from most of Asia and Europe. But as the linked report notes, exemptions were granted to those with temporary work visas and student visas, as well as business travelers. It’s expected that most of those exemptions will be suspended for the duration of the executive order period.

The cries of racism should be boiling up among liberals by the time you read this. But somehow I think the President is pretty much immune to those sorts of attacks by this point. And with the COVID-19 death toll mounting by the day, it’s not a claim that’s likely to resonate around much of the country.

I suppose the argument could be made that this is a case of closing the barn door after the horses have already gotten out. (Or gotten in, in this case.) Just to play devil’s advocate here, there’s a certain amount of truth to that. Our opportunity for a full “containment” strategy never really existed. There’s mounting evidence that the virus was already in the United States as early as November before any of us had even heard the phrase novel coronavirus.

By this point, new infections caused by people entering the country are probably not even a drop in the bucket compared to the number of Americans infecting each other through normal travel and daily interactions. So one could suggest that shutting down all immigration won’t make that much of a difference. But by the same token, one more person dying needlessly from this virus is still one too many, so why take the risk?

I think the longer-term question we’ll need to consider is when we should open the doors back up to normal, legal immigration. Even assuming that we finally get this thing mostly whipped by the end of the summer, other countries with fewer facilities and resources will still be dealing with new cases. Rather than simply “turning on” normal immigration again, it should probably be done in stages, the same way we’ll be reopening businesses. Countries that have knocked down the virus at least as much as the United States could go first, with immigration from nations with active hot spots waiting until the disease is more under control.

We might want to also consider some sort of permanent requirement for testing and a period of quarantine before new arrivals are unleashed into the general population. This virus is going to be with us for a long time, perhaps forever (like the common cold, which is also caused by a coronavirus). And when it comes to how and when we welcome people from other countries, we may indeed need a “new normal.”

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