Grandparents, cousins don’t count as ‘bona fide’ relationships under new travel ban
iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — President Trump’s travel ban, which was mandated by executive order, will partially go into effect Thursday evening at 8:00 p.m. ET, the State Department announced.
People seeking visas to travel to the United States from six restricted countries will have to prove a “bona fide relationship” to someone in the U.S., the Supreme Court wrote on Monday, when it allowed parts of the travel ban to go into effect.
A family relationship is with a parent, a spouse, a child, an adult son or daughter, a son-in-law, a daughter-in-law or a sibling, according to the administration. That includes whole, half and step-relationships, such as stepmother or half-brother, according to State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert.
Asked why a grandparent who raised a grandchild doesn’t qualify, a senior administration official said, “We’ll look to see if the applicant qualifies under the exemptions. If they want to articulate why we should waive them, we’ll look at those case by case, but it won’t be the relationship that will be the determining factor.”
Under the executive order, there is a 120-day suspension of all refugees, as well as a 50,000 cap for fiscal year 2017, but refugees proving one of these relationships will be exempt.
As of Wednesday night, 49,009 refugees had been admitted for the year.
A resettlement agency, however, is not a strong-enough connection, according to the administration. Its definition is that it must be “formal, documented and formed in the ordinary course, rather than for the purpose of evading” the executive order.
When asked to explain why refugee resettlement agencies don’t meet the criteria, senior administration officials admitted that they were still working on the issue since “there were no specific examples related to refugees” in the court ruling.
The administration said it could not provide numbers on how many refugees will be affected by these standards because they’ll have to go through the new exemptions. But one official said over 50 percent of refugees have family connections in the U.S. already.
It’s unclear if the 120-refugee ban begins when the administration hits the 50,000 cap or on Thursday night. At Thursday’s State Department briefing, Nauert said, “Let me please get back with you with one of our lawyers with DHS and DOJ to get an answer to that question” after multiple inquires.
Nauert also couldn’t say whether Iraqis who had worked for or on behalf of the U.S. government would qualify as having a “bona fide” relationship with a U.S. entity. While Iraq is no longer on the list of six countries, the ban could apply to Iraqis applying for special refugee visas.
Individuals from the six affected countries may also qualify for a visa if they have an established connection to various entities in the U.S., such as students admitted to a university or visiting lecturers.
The administration’s lawyers agreed on that definition — considered arbitrary or limited by critics — by using the definition of family in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which specifies spouses, children and siblings, and what was laid out in the Supreme Court ruling, according to a senior administration official.
Individual consular officers, who review visa applications and grant visas overseas, will determine whether an applicant meets the new criteria.
When asked multiple times during the briefing whether this executive order and its new definition make the U.S. safer, and whether the administration had done a risk assessment in its definition, Nauert deferred to federal law.
“There’ve been three days to get through this and try to put that together, so I’m not sure that anyone was able to do a risk assessment, as you suggest, about grandparents,” she said.
Nauert also said there are concerns about people from these six countries, especially refugees and the danger they could pose to Americans.
The American public could have “legitimate concerns about their safety when we open our doors,” she said.
The State Department said it does not plan to cancel previously scheduled visa appointments, but that applicants with interviews after 8 p.m. ET Thursday will need to meet the new requirements.
People who have visas and show up at airports or border checkpoints will be admitted, unless there is an unrelated reason they shouldn’t be allowed entry, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
“We expect business as usual at ports of entry starting at 8 p.m. tonight,” said a senior administration official.
The executive order, which was signed by Trump in March, had been blocked by lower courts. The Supreme Court’s ruling allows the administration to temporarily bar entry into the U.S. of citizens of six Muslim-majority nations — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — with exceptions, the justices wrote, for people who have “any bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”
The Supreme Court will hear arguments in October on those cases.
Despite the fact that this may only affect a small number of travelers — far less than the original executive order in January — the administration touted this as a win. “This really was a significant win for our national security, and President Trump was particularly gratified by the unanimity of the decision,” one senior administration official said Thursday.
On Monday, the president called the court ruling a “clear victory.”
However, opponents of the ban expect additional litigation and opposition to the new implementation.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is part of the legal challenge of the ban, said the guidance arbitrarily refuses to treat certain categories of familial relationships as “bona fide” relationships.
“It remains clear that President Trump’s purpose is to disparage and condemn Muslims. The reported guidance does not comport with the Supreme Court’s order, is arbitrary and is not tied to any legitimate government purpose,” said Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.
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