As COVID-19 continues, PBS correspondent predicts immigration will be less important for 2020 election

Amna Nawaz

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A PBS correspondent with expertise in immigration and border issues told a Steamboat Springs audience that since the COVID-19 pandemic, the issue of illegal immigration has become less important to voters than other major issues like health care, the novel coronavirus and ethics in government.

Still, Amna Nawaz said President Donald Trump’s administration has managed to make immigration changes that would be difficult to undo by any future administration. She said that’s especially true of the changes in legal immigration.

Nawaz is an Emmy and Peabody award-winning reporter currently working for PBS. She has covered multiple issues surrounding border communities, refugees, detention and asylum seekers. She was invited to speak at Seminars at Steamboat on the topic, “Immigration in the Time of Covid: Consequences for Election 2020.”

Nawaz explained changes by the Trump administration to limit both legal and illegal immigration have been helped by the COVID-19 outbreak.

She explained that Trump has “radically cut asylum for refugees” by making it difficult for them to meet criteria. For example, these restrictions include preventing migrants from applying for asylum if they traveled through another country before reaching the U.S. if they didn’t apply in the previous country.

She said Trump also capped yearly refugees at 18,000 starting in September 2019, down from 30,000 the previous year. By comparison, President Barrack Obama had a cap of 110,000 refugees for fiscal year 2017, according to Pew Research.

She said Trump also has made it tougher for people seeking green cards, most of whom are family sponsored. Using his unilateral power, Trump tasked Homeland Security with broadening the “public charge” rule, making it easier to deny a green card based on whether Homeland Security thinks the immigrant is likely to use certain public assistance.

Nawaz said the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the efforts of those applying for visas to enter the U.S. and to stay in the country.

“A lot of the steps that had been too draconian to defend or implement were suddenly allowed in the pandemic,” she told the online audience. “In March of 2020, Trump shut down the borders, northern and southern, and issued a rule that nonessential travel is limited.”

She also said the Trump administration suspended all routine visas, even employment visas.

“It was interesting to see the most recent executive order he signed putting a pause on employment visas related to very high-tech jobs,” Nawaz said. “Businesses protested it. They rely on those workers to fill those staff positions they haven’t been able to fill. On this one issue, he didn’t cede to the businesses.”

For Nawaz’s full presentation and to sign up to hear other public policy speakers go to

Frances Hohl is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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