Among the victims are American citizens who have already waited years to be reunited with relatives who are now trapped abroad. While the measure exempts spouses and children of U.S. citizens (if the children are under the age of 21), it still bars siblings, parents, and other relatives. The administration has compounded the injustice by blocking almost all asylum applications from refugees trying to cross the border, despite the fact that such a measure violates both American and international law, which forbid the expulsion of refugees facing persecution based on race, religion, political opinions, and other similar categories in their countries of origin. Recently issued regulations also categorically deny asylum to women fleeing gender-based persecution and indefinitely extend a rule mandating the virtually automatic expulsion of unaccompanied minors crossing the border, including many fleeing horrific violence and abuse.
Combatting the coronavirus pandemic does not require a sweeping ban on immigration. Travel restrictions have done little to stop the spread of COVID-19, and the United States already has extensive domestic “community spread.” Many potential immigrants would be coming from nations where the disease is actually less widespread than it currently is in the U.S.
In cases of would-be immigrants from nations where there has been a serious coronavirus outbreak, a less draconian and more effective alternative to blanket exclusion exists: Impose a 14-day quarantine on entrants from potentially dangerous areas. South Korea, which has done a far better job of constraining COVID-19 than the U.S. has, has adopted exactly that policy. Immigrants can be isolated until it is clear they do not have the virus.
Derek Thompson: What’s behind South Korea’s COVID-19 exceptionalism?
A 14-day quarantine may be a deal breaker for tourists. But for immigrants, it is a small price to pay for the chance to live in a society that offers greater freedom and opportunity. And unlike migration restrictions, a regime of free migration with some targeted quarantine measures does not create a large population of undocumented immigrants, who in turn have strong incentives to avoid testing for the coronavirus, thereby facilitating the disease’s spread.
Severe restrictions on migration actually damage public health in the long run. Immigrants contribute disproportionately to medical care and innovation. The Trump order includes an exemption for current medical professionals, but not for scientists or those who might become medical workers after entering the country.
The wage-competition rationale for the new policy is equally specious. Economists consistently find that most Americans’ wages actually benefit from immigrant labor. That is the case even during times of severe recession and unemployment, such as the present. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that the mass deportation of Mexican workers during the Great Depression did not result in increased wages for American workers, and may even have lowered them. Far from helping American workers, barring immigrants is likely to make the economy less productive. The recent expansion of Trump’s immigration ban to cover a wide range of work visas will damage the economy further, particularly by reducing innovation, to which H1-B-visa recipients are important contributors.