(New York, NY) – President Donald Trump’s decision to temporarily halt the issuance of all green cards for people wishing to immigrate to the United States for 60 days deals a devastating blow to cross-cultural exchange and the free flow of ideas and individuals, PEN America said today.

Over half a million people were granted green cards in the United States last year, many of them are artists, writers, and cultural professionals. Work visas will not be granted, barring creative foreigners to work and live in the United States. 

“This decision demonstrates a disturbing disregard and, frankly, disgust for international voices and cultures in American society,” said Julie Trebault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) of PEN America. “Without a doubt, the Trump administration has exploited the COVID-19 pandemic, using it as cover to quietly act on the president’s personal and hardline, anti-immigrant agenda. Keeping people out of the United States will not solve this pandemic; instead of looking to science and sound policy, Trump is sending a clear message to the world that smacks of un-Americanism: You’re not welcome here.

“By denying millions of potential immigrants the ability to enter and reside in the United States, the Trump administration is essentially muzzling their voices. The ban displays a sheer disregard of the foundational role immigrant and refugee voices have always played in the America cultural fabric and drastically impedes the international exchange of ideas.”

This Executive Order is just the latest in the Trump administration’s ongoing efforts to restrict immigration. In January, the White House announced an expansion of a sweeping travel ban to include thirteen countries, up from seven in the original 2017 order, impacting some 350 million additional people. Countless artists and creative professionals have come under scrutiny as a result of these heightened restrictions. Earlier this year, a Syrian filmmaker shortlisted for an Oscar was denied a visa, and a similar fate befell a Mexican theater troupe set to perform in Chicago last fall. Other countries have also taken similar measures during the COVID-19 pandemic, using the virus as a way to hamper immigration.

PEN America challenged the Trump administration’s original travel ban, leading more than 30 arts organizations in filing a friend of the court brief urging the Supreme Court to find the ban unconstitutional. The amicus brief argued that the travel ban “upends our deeply American commitment to the free and fearless exchange of ideas” and impermissibly burdened citizens’ First Amendment right to receive information.