President Donald Trump has said he will sign an executive order to temporarily suspend all immigration to the US because of the coronavirus.
In a late night message on Twitter, he cited “the attack from the invisible enemy”, as he calls the virus, and “the need to protect the jobs” of Americans.
He gave no other details. Critics say the Trump administration is using the pandemic to crack down on immigration.
The country has 782,159 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 41,816 deaths.
Mr Trump’s announcement comes as the White House also argues the worst of the pandemic is over and the country can begin reopening.
The US has already agreed with both Canada and Mexico to extend border restrictions on non-essential travel until at least mid-May.
Travel has also been sharply restricted from Europe and China, though people with temporary work visas, students and business travellers are exempted.
The reasons behind the move
Donald Trump’s efforts at governing by social media should always be taken with a sizable grain of salt. His track record on following through on Twitter directives is decidedly mixed. The details of his temporary ban on all immigration, announced a few hours before midnight on Monday, will shed considerable light on the breadth – and legality – of his actions.
Still, it is no secret that the president, and several key advisors, have long viewed immigration not as a benefit to the nation, but as a drain. And the text of his tweet, that the move is necessary not only to protect the nation’s health but also “the jobs of its great American citizens”, only emphasizes this.
There is little doubt the proposal, in whatever form it takes, will be vigorously opposed by pro-immigration groups, some business interests and the president’s ideological adversaries. That is probably just fine with a man who loves drawing political battle lines and goading his opponents whenever possible.
Four years ago, the president campaigned on an aggressive anti-immigration platform, including a total, if temporary, ban on all Muslims entering the country. Now, with an uphill re-election fight looming, he has found a similarly combative measure to champion.
What’s the latest in the US?
Earlier on Monday, Democratic governors asked the White House to urge Americans to heed stay-at-home orders amid anti-lockdown protests stoked by the president.
Mr Trump has been accused of inciting insurrection after championing the demonstrators, while telling governors they were in charge.
He has expressed his support of the protesters in recent days, even as state governors say they are following White House guidance for safely reopening in phases.
Mr Trump – who faces an election in November – last week tweeted in all capital letters for several states to be liberated. At Sunday’s coronavirus briefing he said those protesting against their governors’ social distancing measures were “great people”.
“Their life was taken away from them,” he said. “These people love our country, they want to get back to work.”