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President Trump's latest action on immigration may be alienating a powerful ally - big business. Trump signed a proclamation yesterday that imposes sweeping new limits on foreign guest workers. He says the move is needed at a time when 40 million Americans are unemployed. But Silicon Valley and other major employees say it will hurt the economic recovery, as NPR's Joel Rose reports.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: The Trump administration says this presidential proclamation is all about protecting the American worker. Here's Ken Cuccinelli, a top immigration official at the Department of Homeland Security, last night on the Fox Business Channel.
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KEN CUCCINELLI: You know how important economic success for every American is for him. Well, this is where the rubber meets the road for a lot of it.
ROSE: The White House proclamation will block the admission of hundreds of thousands of foreign guest workers through the end of the year in a range of visa categories, including H-1B visas for high-skilled workers, H-2B visas for seasonal workers and landscapers and J visas for cultural exchange workers and au pairs. In other words, Cuccinelli says...
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CUCCINELLI: That is a very big deal - unprecedented level of effort by a president to clear the American job market of competition like this.
ROSE: To much of the American business community, however, this is an unprecedented mistake. The Chamber of Commerce, Silicon Valley and other major employers all panned the move. They say global talent makes the U.S. economy bigger and better for everyone.
GARY SHAPIRO: For us to remain globally competitive we need the best and brightest. That's been our secret sauce.
ROSE: Gary Shapiro is the president of the Consumer Technology Association, an industry trade group. He says there's still a shortage of qualified applicants for top tech jobs in the U.S. even during the pandemic. That's why companies go to the trouble and expense of hiring foreign guest workers.
SHAPIRO: The president has made a decision that he thinks this is good for his election prospects. And it may test well, but the reality is we will see technology companies relocating essential facilities and moving to other countries just to get the workers they must get to compete globally.
ROSE: The proclamation laid bare some ideological differences over immigration among conservatives. Josselin Castillo is with Americans for Prosperity, which gets funding from the conservative Koch network. The group argued against these visa restrictions.
JOSSELIN CASTILLO: Doubling down on policies that actually limit the ability of already struggling American businesses to hire talent that is willing, qualified and able will actually undermine our productivity. And we're worried that this is going to lead to a slow economic recovery.
ROSE: Immigrant advocates say the Trump administration is using the coronavirus pandemic to make big changes that it couldn't get from Congress. It's already restricted green cards and blocked asylum at the southern border. For this proclamation on guest workers, the administration relies on the same legal authority it used for the travel ban on people from majority Muslim countries. And once again, that's likely to be challenged in court. Jason Oxman is the president of ITI, an information industry trade group.
JASON OXMAN: We do not believe the legal justification for the proclamation to be legally sound.
ROSE: The proclamation has some exceptions - for example, workers involved in food processing, also health care workers and researchers fighting the coronavirus. But the exceptions are smaller than what big employers had pushed for. That was a welcome surprise for Mark Krikorian at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, which advocates for less immigration.
MARK KRIKORIAN: This is much better, frankly, than I was expecting. I was thinking that the lobbyists for the various cheap labor industries would have been much more successful, but they seemed to have been defeated. This seems to me a win for American workers.
ROSE: At the very least, it is a win for immigration hardliners inside the Trump administration.
Joel Rose, NPR News, Washington.
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