Trump's immigration ban raises plenty of questions. Here's what we know.

WASHINGTON — In a late-night tweet Monday, President Donald Trump declared that he would be "signing an Executive Order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States."

Trump said his order would "pause" issuing green cards — a mandatory steppingstone to citizenship — for 60 days and would then revisit the policy depending on economic conditions. He told reporters Tuesday that it "will not apply to those entering on a temporary basis," and he insisted that his goal was to protect Americans from international competition for jobs.

The announcement came as a surprise, even to many Trump allies, and the sweeping language in his tweet raised questions about whom it would affect. But without the text of the order or any formal guidance from the administration, it's not clear whether the order will ultimately be a far-reaching policy change or will simply formalize what is already a de facto pause on immigration during the coronavirus pandemic.

Here are some of the biggest questions and the answers we have so far.

Wait. Isn't immigration already on hold?

Effectively, yes. Citizenship and Immigration Services field offices in the country are closed, which means appointments and naturalization ceremonies aren't taking place. Around the world, routine visa processing for tourists and workers has been suspended. Restrictions are in place for nonessential travel. Refugee admissions have been halted, and the administration is cracking down at the border by turning migrants away.

It's not clear to what extent Trump's executive order would expand the restrictions or largely formalize them for a certain period.

Could this affect immigrants already in the U.S.?

The president's remarks suggested that people applying for green cards, whether from inside or outside the country, would be affected. But the move wouldn't have an effect on existing visas.

"It wouldn't be kicking out people that are here," said Greg Siskind, an immigration lawyer based in Memphis, Tennessee. "It doesn't apply to people who have green cards now. And it doesn't apply to people who are applying for naturalization."

One group of people affected are Americans sponsoring relatives for green cards, a widely used category that Trump and his chief immigration adviser, Stephen Miller, have sought to curtail.

"If you're sponsoring a relative abroad, then this should be an issue," Siskind said.

Trump didn't say whether the order would include exceptions for certain people, such as spouses and children of Americans.

Popular visas held by people who could be barred from pursuing green cards include "H" visas (specialty, temporary or seasonal workers), "L" visas (intracompany transfers to U.S.) and "O" visas for people with "extraordinary ability."

It's unclear what impact that would have on young people who need to renew protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Who could get exceptions?

We don't know yet.

Trump said the executive order won't affect migrant farmworkers. Republican senators have pleaded for flexibility on H-2A visas, which farmers rely on, during the crisis.

There is also uncertainty about whether medical professionals would be exempt.

Is it about politics?

Trump has repeatedly leaned into the issue of immigration to fire up his base. Building a wall and barring entry for Muslims were central 2016 campaign planks. It is a powerful issue for the older, white and evangelical voters at the heart of his coalition. On Tuesday, Trump's re-election campaign sent an email to supporters promoting the tweet and saying their "input is crucial to the President's next steps."

But overall, the U.S. isn't sold on Trump's immigration vision. Polls show that Americans oppose the wall and are split on the restrictions on travel from majority-Muslim nations. A recent YouGov survey found the U.S. evenly divided, with 46 percent approving of the president's handling of immigration and 46 percent disapproving.

What are Democrats saying?

Democrats have criticized the move, accusing Trump of seeking to distract from his failures in dealing with the coronavirus by scapegoating immigrants. "Xenophobe. In. Chief," tweeted House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries of New York. And Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, called it "an authoritarian-like move to take advantage of a crisis and advance his anti-immigrant agenda."

That depends on the details of the order, but it's possible.

The U.S. relies on immigrant labor for its food supply chain and to care for its elderly and disabled population. More than one-fourth of doctors in the U.S. are foreign-born, according to a study of census data.

In addition, about 4,000 foreign-born doctors on J-1 visas are expected to begin residency programs in the U.S. starting July 1, Siskind said. White House officials didn't comment when asked whether they would be exempt.

When would the executive order be signed?

A senior administration official told NBC News that it could be signed as early as this week but did not offer any details about whether it had been drafted or where the process stands.

The move "had been under consideration for a while," the official said. When asked how the implementation would work and how many countries would be affected, the official said: "The details will be forthcoming."

How long will this last?

Trump said the order would last for 60 days before he revisited it. He cited "the Invisible Enemy" — his nickname for the coronavirus — and "the need to protect the jobs." Robert O'Brien, Trump's national security adviser, said it would be "temporary," but he demurred when asked to get more specific.

"We'll have to wait and see," O'Brien told NBC News. "Look, we don't know what the time horizon is for the fight against the virus."

Where does Trump get the authority to do this?

Section 212(f) of the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act gives the president broad authority to block the "entry" of categories of people he deems "detrimental" to U.S. interests.

It was previously cited to ban narrow types of individuals, like human rights violators and Sudanese armed forces members in the 1990s. Trump has expanded its use.

"Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate."

Did Trump cite this law for the Muslim ban?


And there might be other similarities. Trump's travel ban began as a sweeping call for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States," but eventually it narrowed to apply to several majority-Muslim nations, with national security as the justification, so it could withstand legal scrutiny. Like the Muslim ban, his coming order could also face lawsuits.


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