One of former President Donald Trump’s first decisive measures during the early days of the pandemic was his March travel ban on most of Europe, though experts pointed out that it came too late to be effective. With the response to the crisis having been defined by a lack of federal leadership, this early action set the stage for the slew of anti-immigration policies the administration would unroll in the months that followed.
In the spring of 2020, ProPublica obtained a Border Patrol memo directing agents to turn asylum-seekers away at the U.S.-Mexico border without offering the migrants the opportunity to make their asylum cases. At the same time, the president announced that he was closing the border with Mexico, a closure that was extended in June. The use of a public health emergency to justify immigration restrictions had long been sought by then White House Senior Adviser Stephen Miller, an architect of many of the administration’s harshest immigration policies.
In April 2020, Trump suspended immigration for 60 days, blocking green card recipients from moving to the U.S., restrictions that were expanded that June with bans on multiple categories of foreign workers and immigration visas through the end of 2020. Also in June, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued an emergency rule barring pandemic relief funds from going to foreign and undocumented students, including Dreamers. And two days after the Fourth of July, Immigration and Customs Enforcement released new regulations stating that foreign students must leave the country if their college is operating entirely online come fall.
American Oversight is investigating the rationale used by the Trump administration for such harsh measures, from the blocking of asylum-seekers to the deportations that spread the virus to other countries. We’re also looking into Miller’s influence over the response, and are seeking records that could shed light on the actual motives behind many policies.