A very rare genius: Coronavirus, immigrants and Donald Trump

Only a person of rare genius stature can divert attention from virus to worn-out topic, called immigration

Trump’s bold assertion that he is protecting “GREAT Americans” of their livelihood is nothing but hot air plain and simple with only the educated being able to sift through the political and elections-related garbage. Photo: iStock

Recently two journalists in The Washington Post wrote a gripping book titled, “A Very Stable Genius: Donald J Trump’s Testing of America”. The “Very Stable Genius” part of the title is not what the authors complemented the President of the United States with; rather it is a term that Trump has been using for himself, and over and over again, perhaps to reassure himself that he really is not!

But events in the last few days may convince some that Trump is not some “very stable genius”, rather could fall into the category of genius of a “very rare” order. How else can a person see a million people infected with a deadly virus and 45,000 dead, and try to divert the attention of a failed policy to something that is not even there, called Green Cards? It takes a person of rare genius stature to deflect attention from coronavirus to an often beaten-up and worn-out topic — immigration.

But for the red necks, bigots and those who cannot tell the difference between their heads and a hole in the ground, a few are impressed with the 60-day freeze in immigration pertaining to something called Permanent Residency or a Green Card that is not even green in colour. Like many of his policy announcements that baffled his cabinet members and his so-called advisors, Trump first vowed on Twitter that he was “temporarily” suspending all immigration into the US, leaving officials to scramble for cover not knowing what their President meant.

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The rationale that Trump dished out was because of “the attack from the Invisible Enemy, as well as the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens”. By Invisible Enemy, he had obviously meant the coronavirus, and by shutting down immigration the President was trying to bring in that dubious and scandalous linkage that once immigrants were taken care of coronavirus is history. This is what the ignorant in his political base want to hear!

Permanent Residency or Green Cards give immigrants the legal right to reside and work and in the United States. Every year around one million green cards are issued. About 70 per cent goes to those with relatives living in the United States. For employment-based cards, it is estimated that about 80 per cent are already living in the United States, or the movement from one category of visa to another.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, only some 110,000 green cards would be delayed as a result of the two-month suspension that could be extended according to the President. Still Trump cleverly left out the H Category of visas — the H1A, H1B and H2 that sees hundreds of thousands of foreign workers from high-skilled, farm and health categories — that many initially feared would be hit.

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It is said that 75 per cent of all H1B visas are taken up by India; and even now there are unanswered questions on the fate of about 85,000 who are eligible for this year’s quota, not because of Trump’s short term immigration rules but because of doubtful employment prospects as a result of business closures on account of the coronavirus.

The same could be said for those students from India who are aspiring to make use of their Optional Practical Training (OPT) for between one and three years: first on account of the non-completion of program requirements as a result of campus shutdowns; and secondly because of fewer job opportunities in the face of massive layoffs as a result of the economic downtrend.

There is still a lot of questions to be answered on the latest Executive Order especially with respect to those who are trying to migrate from the H1B status to the Green Card and in the final stages — do they get to stay out the waiting period or have to leave the country? And the same goes for those who have applied for H1B status.

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The extreme right-wing conservative base of Trump must be blissfully ignorant of another facet to the latest announcement on immigration: that actually there was little forward movement given that America had put in place restrictions of movement of peoples from Europe and Asia; borders in Canada and Mexico had been sealed; a hold on refugee settlement or resettlement; and the State Department virtually shutting down its visa counters globally, except for emergency services with processing green cards highly unlikely to fit this bill.

Hence, Trump’s bold assertion that he is protecting “GREAT Americans” of their livelihood is nothing but hot air plain and simple with only the educated being able to sift through the political and elections-related garbage. The genius of a very rare variety is desperately looking for an outlet: with the exception of a handful of media outlets that have been sympathetic to Trump from Day One, most have condemned the administration for having bungled in the handling of coronavirus.

From refusing to come to terms with the seriousness of the problem to downright insulting people who were familiar with infectious diseases and how to go about solving the problem, Trump first played into the hands of those dismissing the threat and later to become the cheerleader of the brigade opposing shutdowns, instigating supporters to fight for their Second Amendment rights and openly insulting Governors of States who were keen on protecting their citizens within their boundaries.

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Now, caught in a political game where conservatives (excepting, of course, the extreme right-wing) and liberals are bringing down the sledgehammer, Trump is looking for a diversion mechanism. And what could be the ideal than invoking the invisible immigrant as the ultimate villain? Heart of hearts Trump would want advocacy groups to challenge his Executive Order in federal courts so that it becomes a handy flaunting exercise to say that Democrats are against protecting jobs for Americans.

After all, how many among Trump’s supporters will understand the difference between 20 million-plus Americans are out of their jobs today because of coronavirus thanks to a dysfunctional White House and some 110,000 people deprived of a Green Card for a sixty-day period?  So according to the Rare Genius suspending the Permanent Residency status for two months solves the problem! 

(The writer was a former senior journalist in Washington D.C. covering North America and the United Nations)