President Trump is focusing this week on highlighting efforts to restrict immigration into the U.S., seeking to reenergize his base of supporters and deliver on campaign promises as he lags in the polls behind presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
The administration on Monday detailed new limits on work visas, and Trump will visit the border wall in swing state Arizona on Tuesday. The president also said over the weekend he intends to refile paperwork to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program after the Supreme Court rejected his first attempt to do so.
While the latter in particular is a politically fraught issue, officials close to the administration argue Trump must dig in on immigration issues or risk alienating his core supporters.
“I don’t think the president has any leeway. He has to push through on re-rescinding DACA because otherwise he’s going to appear, and actually be, weak,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors limiting immigration levels.
Monday’s executive order suspends certain types of worker visas through the rest of 2020. The order applies to H-1B visas, H-2B visas, H-4 visas, L-1 visas and certain J-1 visas that apply to tech workers, seasonal workers, researchers and executives transferring to the U.S. from positions abroad.
The restrictions are set to remain in place for the rest of the calendar year and can be extended. The measure largely closes loopholes in the president’s executive order in April that restricted green card access for certain immigrants trying to enter the country.
Administration officials framed it as a necessary measure to secure jobs for American workers amid the coronavirus pandemic, though its immediate impact is unclear as the U.S. has barred incoming travel from Canada, Mexico, Europe and China.
That order was widely panned by immigration hard-liners who are allies of the administration for affecting an extremely narrow population and falling well short of Trump’s initial pledge to “temporarily suspend immigration into the United States” amid the coronavirus pandemic.
While Monday’s executive order is intended to make a more immediate impact on immigration, the fate of the “Dreamers” who benefit from DACA could hang over the remainder of the president’s first term.
The Trump administration in 2017 rescinded DACA, an Obama-era program that shields young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children from deportation. The move was a central feature of the president’s efforts to restrict immigration.
The Supreme Court last week ruled that the administration failed to give an adequate justification for terminating the program as required by federal law. But the court made clear Trump had the authority to rescind the program, essentially forcing the president to try again or risk the appearance of backing down.
Trump told Fox News in an interview Saturday that he would refile to rescind DACA before the November presidential election.
“We have to refile,” Trump said. “And everything’s going to work out for DACA and the young people, who aren’t so young, if you want to know the truth.”
Polls show that there is broad bipartisan support for protecting Dreamers, however, making it politically risky for Trump to take any action that would endanger their standing in the country. Trump and White House officials have argued that doing away with DACA would force Congress to offer a legislative solution for Dreamers, but such a deal is unlikely in an election year.
“There’s no question the biggest issues this fall are going to be the economy and the pandemic,” said Alex Conant, a GOP strategist who previously worked for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
“I think Trump is talking about immigration because he wants to talk about immigration,” he added. “This is not the issue that’s going to win back suburban independents, but it helps maintain his support with his base.”
Trump has faced a slew of crises in recent months that have coincided with Biden expanding his lead in national polls and holding a steady advantage in several swing state polls.
Trump has been blistered over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 120,000 people in the U.S. and cratered a once-humming economy. The president has struggled to hit the right notes as the country convulses from protests over racial injustice and police brutality.
The Supreme Court dealt Trump a pair of high-profile defeats last week with the DACA decision and a ruling that workers can’t be fired for being gay or transgender.
Adding insult to injury, Trump’s first campaign rally in three months fell well short of expectations with fewer than 7,000 people filing into a 19,000-capacity arena after the president predicted a packed house.
Trump will be in a more comfortable setting on Tuesday as he travels to Yuma, Ariz., to commemorate the completion of 200 miles of the border wall system. He is expected to tour the wall, providing a potential photo-op and fodder for campaign ads centered on his border strategy.
While there, Trump will hold a roundtable with local leaders and border officials from the administration.
“The President promised to build a strong border wall system and he continues to deliver on his promises,” a White House official said in a statement.