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Grandparents Eligible For Visas Under Expanded Instructions On Travel Ban

The State Department has issued new instructions about which citizens from the six Muslim-majority countries covered by the Trump administration's travel ban are eligible for visas.

The instructions issued to U.S. embassies and consulates widen the definition of a close familial relationship to include categories such as grandparents and cousins, in accordance with a federal court ruling last week, a State Department spokesman said in a statement to The Two-Way.

The Supreme Court last month ruled that parts of the ban can take effect while the justices prepare to hear oral arguments on the matter in the fall. But the court said travelers from the six countries — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — can be exempted if they have a "bona fide relationship" with a person in the U.S., including close family members.

The Trump administration has said "close family" includes a parent, spouse, fiancé, son, daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law or sibling.

But last Thursday, a federal judge in Hawaii said that definition was too narrow and should include grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts and uncles, nephews and nieces, and cousins.

"[T]he Government's definition represents the antithesis of common sense," Federal District Court Judge Derrick K. Watson said in his ruling, as The Two-Way reported. "Common sense, for instance, dictates that close family members be defined to include grandparents. Indeed, grandparents are the epitome of close family members. The Government's definition excludes them. That simply cannot be."

Now, the State Department has told U.S. embassies and consulates to include these new categories as they make visa decisions. The instructions are effective immediately.

The State Department spokesman did not say what the administration meant by "cousin," though a copy of the cable sent to embassies published by Reuters says the exemption is limited to first cousins.

The administration has asked the Supreme Court to clarify what it means by close family. As we reported, that filing claims that the new definition includes "virtually all family members" and "reads the term 'close' out of the [Supreme] Court's decision."

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Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.

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