That might not have come as a surprise — or be seen as a problem — by the members of the administration who favored the order. Trump’s “America First” priorities, clearly explained during the 2016 election campaign but thrown into relief this week, leave little room for non-Americans who may want to work or study in the United States.
One of the clearest examples came in November 2015, when Trump appeared on the radio show hosted by then-Breitbart editor Steve K. Bannon, who has since become the White House political director. Trump, who always framed his border security concerns as focused on violent crime and drugs, appeared cool on the idea of immigration restrictions that would keep out productive workers.
“We have to keep our talented people in this country,” Trump said.
“When two-thirds or three-quarters of the CEOs in Silicon Valley are from South Asia or from Asia, I think … ” Bannon said, before trailing off. “A country is more than an economy. We’re a civic society.”
Trump didn’t say he agreed with Bannon, but he also didn’t push back. But in 2016, as his campaign released more detailed policy positions, he put himself on the record against a visa program used by companies to employ high-skilled foreign workers.
“I will end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program, and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers first for every visa and immigration program,” Trump wrote on his website in 2016. “No exceptions.”
The concepts overlapped and contradicted what had been a mainstream Republican position — that legal immigration of talented people was acceptable, while illegal immigration was not. As was often the case with complicated during the campaign, Trump sometimes contradicted himself on high-skilled immigration. But his choice of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to run the Department of Justice, and his elevation of Sessions staffer Stephen Miller as a policy aide, hinted strongly that he would restrict H-1B visas. Shortly before the election, Sessions suggested that he would favor eliminating H1-Bs altogether.
“If there’s a job available in the United States,” said Sessions, “Americans should have a chance at the job before you bring in a foreign worker to take a job.”