Twisting Opportunity in Crisis

April 27th opinion piece published in Mexico Today

I value the idea of seeking opportunity in crisis, but President Trump has ruined it for me.

Periods of crisis are times of accelerated change. The people who can see through these moments come out on top. Their creative abilities are put to the test. Practicality and innovation surface. Problem solvers thrive in this environment. 

At least, that is how I used to think about it.

When our national energy is focused on surviving the public health and economic crisis presented by the coronavirus, President Trump has taken advantage of this moment to tighten the noose on the US immigration and asylum systems.  And, he does it in the name of protecting us from the virus.

He is taking a truth, that we need to be careful about the transfer of the virus and twisting it into a rationale for implementing policies he has long desired, like dramatically restricting migration, or keeping people in search of asylum off US soil.  

Think back over the past few years. First there was the “Muslim ban”; then attacks on “chain migration” otherwise known as family reunification; then refugee resettlement numbers were slashed; then there was “metering” – only allowing a few asylum seekers to enter the US on a given day; followed by “Remain in Mexico” – forcing people who have already applied for asylum in the US to wait out their legal determination in Mexico. The combination of the last two stranded tens of thousands on the Mexico side of the border.

Now Trump has twisted “opportunity,” using the coronavirus response to further his immigration goals. The Administration now pushes unaccompanied migrant children back into Mexico because they could carry the coronavirus, while at the same time, allowing commerce between the two countries to flow.  Are children more likely to be virus carriers than truck drivers?

This past week, he announced, by tweet of course, that he is suspending immigration to the United States.  “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!” (April 20). Not surprisingly, that wasn’t exactly accurate, as temporary worker visas continue to flow as they are deemed essential workers, but he is stopping family reunification.  

There is a rule of thumb in public policy advocacy that it is much harder to secure rights in law and practice than it is to take them away.  They say that the new restrictions are temporary and will be reviewed in two months – but will they?  

Trump has found a twisted form of opportunity in this crisis, and I’m afraid I will never see this concept the same way again.

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