Justice Department reviews Trump’s controversial immigration ban

MIAMI – The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel is reviewing President Donald Trump’s controversial proposal for an executive order to ban immigration during the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump’s late Monday night tweet warning of the temporary ban came before the United Nations’ food agency reported countries like Haiti and Venezuela are “on the brink of a hunger pandemic” that could lead to “multiple famines of biblical proportions” within a few months.

“As a Venezuelan, I love Trump. I understand why he wants to do what he is going to do. He is protecting this great country. The United States is the strongest country in the world. That’s why we come here running away from the socialist disaster,” Natalia Cortez, of Miami, said in Spanish. “Imagine if all of those people are able to come here like us. It would be impossible to give everyone what they need.”

Some worried about the economic impact of such a ban. Attorney Gregory Goan, who has an office in Brickell said he was having to explain to clients that Trump’s tweet was not law. He said he told several of his clients that they didn’t have to close their South Florida businesses amid concerns of their immigration status.

“We have to wait for our system of checks and balances to do what it does best and that is to see if this executive order is even going to be constitutional -- if it’s within the balance of the law,” Goan said.

Trump’s tweet prompted advocates for immigrants and refugees nationwide, who include several religious leaders, to respond with criticism on Tuesday. Some compared the order to his much-litigated January 2017 travel ban on Venezuela, North Korea, and five majority-Muslim nations.

Melissa Taveras, of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, said immigrants in South Florida who are already suffering during the crisis. She said immigrants are “putting food on our tables, are building our homes, are taking care of our elderly, nurses at hospitals, our doctors ... these are folks that we need.”

Members of the Medical Mission Sisters in Boynton Beach and Pax Christi Florida in West Palm Beach were among the 224 faith-based organizations that signed a letter asking the Trump administration to protect immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers during the pandemic.

Sister Simone Campbell, a Catholic nun and lawyer, Rev. John L. McCullough, the president of the Church World Service, Rev. Mark Stephenson, the director of the Christian Reformed Church Office of Social Justice, are among the activists who released statements in protest after Trump’s tweet.

“Trump’s racist immigration ban comes while immigrants do the essential work that keeps our nation going during this pandemic,” Campbell wrote. “My faith teaches that welcoming immigrants is our sacred moral duty. Because of this, we are called to fight this order.”

Paola Fuentes was born in Costa Rica and grew up in Nicaragua. The immigrant earned a bachelor’s degree from Calvin University in Michigan. She works for the American Christian social justice organization Sojourners as the immigration and women and girls campaign coordinator.

“We reject this move to blame and dehumanize immigrant families, and call on this administration to embrace community so that we can all get through this together,” Fuentes said in a statement.

Mariana Lopez, of Coral Gables, said she is Catholic and disagrees with anyone who says Trump is a racist who doesn’t understand immigrants’ contributions to the U.S.

“I really don’t think he is the racist that a lot of people make him out to be. Like, when he said that about Haiti and he said that about China. There are Haitians and Chinese here because they know what is over there is not right,” Lopez said. “I am Cuban and I know what the hospitals there look like. Trump is just trying to do what he has to do for this country."

With November elections approaching, Rep. Donna Shalala is among the Democrats who referred to Trump’s move as a “xenophobic ploy” and a distraction from his alleged mismanagement of the crisis.

Before the controversy began, several immigration cases had already been delayed, or put off because of the pandemic, and the State Department has suspended processing most visas, immigration attorneys said.

About the Authors:

Layron Livingston made the move from Ohio's Miami Valley to Miami, Florida, to join the Local 10 News team.

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.