Americans are trying to process where this coronavirus pandemic, and our nation’s response to it, fits into our national consciousness. Is it our generation’s Pearl Harbor? Some have said, with much truth, that coronavirus is worse than 9/11. The impact on our country—a rising death toll, trillions in lost wealth, massive unemployment, disruption of normal life—is catastrophic.
This is a time for national triage. The first priority is to preserve human life: contain the virus, treat the sick and flatten the curve. Our state and federal governments have addressed those issues in a serious way. Once the virus is in decline, the next priority will be to rebuild our nation’s economic health. On that front, President Trump has an array of powers at his disposal.
One power Trump should implement is to seal our nation’s borders from new arrivals until employment is back to pre-virus levels.
At a time of record filings for unemployment assistance, America needs every citizen who is out of work to have a job. In addition to the obvious health risks, we are undercutting the very possibility of economic recovery for most Americans when we allow low-skilled workers into the country over the southern border, or bring in foreign tech workers through H-1B visas and similar programs.
It’s simple economics. A larger pool of workers lowers the cost of labor, which means employers can pay their employees less. This effect is increased when those here illegally are willing to work for sub-standard wages. Hiring illegal aliens is not giving them opportunities, it is exploitation. And the result is fewer and lower-paying jobs for American citizens. Shrinking the pool of available workers by restricting immigration will set wages higher and free up jobs for American citizens.
If President Trump were to seal the border in this way, it is a forgone conclusion that an army of anti-borders activist lawyers would file lawsuits to block the move. “The President doesn’t have the authority to do this!” they would bellow.
They could not be more wrong.
A federal law that has been on the books for decades, and was strongly reaffirmed by the Supreme Court only two years ago, gives him just such power. Section 1182(f) of Title 8 states:
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 non-immigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem appropriate.
Note that the President may suspend the entry of “all aliens.” Why? When this bill was debated, its sponsor, Congressman Walter, said:
[In a time of foreign pandemic], people might conceivably in large numbers come to the United States and bring all sorts of communicable diseases with them. More than that, suppose we have a period of great unemployment? In the judgment of the committee, it is advisable at such times to permit the President to say that for a certain time we are not going to aggravate that situation.
The Supreme Court recently has endorsed this vast presidential power. In Trump v. Hawaii, decided in 2018, the Court upheld Trump’s travel ban based on it, despite claims that his ban on entry from certain countries discriminated against Muslims. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion, “…we have previously observed that §1182(f) vests the President with ‘ample power’ to impose entry restrictions in addition to those elsewhere enumerated… By its terms, §1182(f) exudes deference to the President in every clause.”
My organization, the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in Trump v. Hawaii. In it, we argued that the President’s foreign-policy power to defend the nation was broad enough to encompass his travel ban. The Court agreed.
Here, of course, there is not even any question of discrimination to be debated. If Trump seals the border against the whole world, he will not be discriminating against Muslims or anyone else.
Trump can do this, and he should do this. Coronavirus is causing American citizens to lose their lives, their jobs and their freedoms. Sealing the border would be a necessary and constitutional step in response. Save citizens’ lives, Mr. President – then save their livelihoods.
Dale L. Wilcox is executive director and general counsel at the Immigration Reform Law Institute, a public interest law firm working to defend the rights and interests of the American people from the negative effects of illegal migration.