WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump might delay approving a plan to temporarily halt giving foreigners permanent residence in the United States which he says will protect American workers during the coronavirus pandemic, an aide said on Wednesday.

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said lawyers were poring over the details of an executive order that Trump had planned to sign on Wednesday. The order would have suspended the process to grant foreigners “green cards” for permanent residence.

“It has to be cleared legally,” Conway told reporters. “I know he’s itching to sign it, but it’s a matter of when it’s ready,” she said.

A White House official who requested anonymity to discuss the process also suggested the timeline for the order could be pushed back.

“The lawyers are still hacking it out and getting down to the details,” the official told Reuters. “We don’t know if it’s going to be ready for signature tonight. It’s a complex thing.”

The president, a Republican, won the White House in 2016 in part on a promise to crack down on immigration. Critics saw his announcement as a move to take advantage of the coronavirus crisis to implement a long-sought policy goal ahead of this year’s presidential election.

A person familiar with the internal debate at the White House said Trump and his advisers had discussed the executive order over the weekend and that the move was directed at his electoral base.

“He’s wanted this all along,” the person said. “But now under this pandemic he can absolutely do it.”

Business groups expressed opposition to Trump’s plan on Tuesday, arguing it would only further depress the economy.

Michael Clemens, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for Global Development, said that a range of industries would be hurt including ones that are critical during a public health emergency such as food processing, warehousing, shipping, eldercare, childcare, communication and technology.

Many of those jobs are filled my immigrants and the family members they reunite with from abroad, he said.

“Immigrants are the backbone of these industries,” Clemens said.

Many key details of Trump’s planned executive order are still not known, but crucially, while the order could block many people applying for permanent residence outside the United States it is not clear how it would impact people already in the country seeking to become permanent residents.

Trump said the order initially would last for 60 days and could be renewed for the same period or longer, and that a second immigration-focused order was under consideration.

The Washington-based Migration Policy Institute estimated that Trump’s green card effort could prevent between 114,000 and 660,000 people securing permanent residence – if left in place for a year.

Reporting by Ted Hesson, Steve Holland, Jeff Mason in Washington and Mica Rosenberg in New York; Editing by Ross Colvin and Alistair Bell

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