Close Family Ties, Job Offers Considered 'Bona Fide' As Trump Travel Ban Takes Effect

Jun 29, 2017
Originally published on February 16, 2018 4:49 pm

Updated June 29 at 1:20 p.m. ET

The Trump administration outlined Thursday how it will implement its modified travel ban, following the Supreme Court's decision on Monday lifting a stay on the executive order imposed by two lower courts.

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that the modified ban cannot be applied to "foreign nationals who have a credible claim of bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States."

Senior U.S. officials who briefed reporters on a conference call but would not allow themselves to be identified, told reporters that the order will allow travelers from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen to enter the U.S. if they have close family ties. Those ties are defined as a parent, including parent-in-law; spouse; child; adult son or daughter, including son-in-law or daughter-in-law; and sibling, including half and step siblings.

However, the administration's definition does not include grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, fiances and other extended family members.

Under the administration's interpretation of the high court's ruling, people who have accepted job offers in the U.S. or an invitation to lecture at a U.S. university may also receive visas.

The modified order also bars refugees from entering the U.S. for 120 days, although refugees already scheduled to be resettled in the U.S. through July 6 will be allowed in. And, in keeping with the high court's order, refugees who can show a "bona fide relationship" will be allowed entry. But that does not include refugees without qualifying family members in the U.S., even if they have established relationships with resettlement agencies, under the Trump administration's interpretation of the high court's ruling.

In at least a partial victory for the president, the Supreme Court lifted the stay, issued by federal courts in Maryland and Hawaii, that had prevented the order from taking effect, while the justices consider whether the ban is constitutional. During the course of litigation over the revised ban, the president directed his administration to begin implementation "72 hours after all applicable injunctions are lifted or stayed," which would be Thursday.

As NPR reported earlier this week, the initial version of the travel ban, issued Jan. 27, "caused chaos at airports across the country until it was blocked by a federal judge in Washington state" on Feb. 3, a ruling that was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. That prompted the administration to craft a revised version in March that omitted references to religion and specifically exempted green card holders. But that order, too, was challenged by lawsuits. It was blocked by lower courts in Maryland and Hawaii, decisions also upheld by appeals courts, and never took effect.

The State Department said Wednesday that once the order is implemented, it will process visa applications for nationals of affected countries "as directed by the Executive Order and in full compliance with the Supreme Court's decision."

The administration has said the order will be implemented "in a professional, organized and timely way."

Various advocacy groups have been seeking guidance as to what constitutes "a bona fide relationship" with a person or entity in the U.S.

In a statement, Muslim Advocates, a civil rights group, questioned the wisdom of the administration's approach. The State Department guidelines "are extremely disappointing and troubling," the group said. "Defining close family to exclude grandparents, cousins, and other relatives defies common sense; it also directly goes against the intent of the Supreme Court's order."

The group's statement also said it will have a presence at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C., Thursday night to ensure that travelers "don't get ensnared by this still unconstitutional policy."

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The Trump administration has now outlined who is allowed into the United States after the Supreme Court upheld part of the president's travel ban earlier this week. The executive order limits travelers from a group of mostly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. for 90 days. For all refugees, it's for 120 days. The court said people with bonafide connections in the U.S. should be allowed in. But the White House is giving that a controversial interpretation. NPR's Brian Naylor begins our coverage.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: The travel ban affects people from six nations - Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iran and Yemen. According to the guidelines laid out by the administration, people from those countries with a very specific set of relatives in the U.S. can qualify for visas to come here. So for instance, if your mother or father lives here or your spouse or child or your sister or brother, you're good. People with step-siblings or half-siblings would also qualify, as would people with mothers- or fathers-in-law here.

But if it's your fiance or grandmother or grandfather you're hoping to visit, you're out of luck. The administration says those and other extended family members are not close enough relations to qualify. Cornell University immigration law professor Stephen Yale-Loehr says it's a bit hard to figure.

STEPHEN YALE-LOEHR: The State Department instructions are pretty narrow. The Supreme Court said that anyone who had a bona fide relationship with a person in the United States could qualify, but the State Department has interpreted that to limit it to close family members. So a stepsister qualifies as being exempt from the travel ban, but a grandparent or a fiance does not. And that doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

NAYLOR: Sirene Shebaya is an attorney with the group Muslim Advocates. She agrees the distinctions are puzzling, especially where extended family ties are part of the culture.

SIRENE SHEBAYA: This is likely to cause grave harm to a lot of people. You know, you have some people who might, for example, be directly taken care of by their grandparents or be taking care of their grandparents themselves. You have people who are engaged to someone that they're bringing over here. I mean the idea that a fiance is not a close family relationship is just a little bit astonishing.

NAYLOR: Trump administration officials who briefed reporters today on background and would not agree to be named said the guidelines are based on the definition of family included in the Immigration and Nationality Act, and they say travelers can seek individual waivers, though it's not clear how many will be granted.

The administration is also defining the court's ruling narrowly when it comes to refugees. Under terms of the executive order, none are to be admitted for 120 days unless they too can claim the appropriate family members are already in the country. Cornell's Yale-Loehr says that's going to exclude most who are seeking to gain entry here.

YALE-LOEHR: Some people have estimated that slightly over half of all refugees do not have a close enough family relationship to be able to enter. So for example, if you remember the Lost Boys of Sudan who were orphaned children who fled war and famine in Sudan to come to the United States as refugees, they would not be allowed under this interpretation.

NAYLOR: And the administration says even for refugees who have a relationship with a sponsoring organization, that's not enough to qualify them to come to the U.S. Visitors, however, who have been invited to lecture or enroll at a U.S. college will be eligible. Advocates say they expect to challenge the travel restrictions in court, and they'll be monitoring airports to see how the new rules are carried out by Homeland Security officials. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

SIEGEL: And in fact, the state of Hawaii said today in a court filing that the administration's definition of bona fide connections violates the Supreme Court's ruling, and it's asked a federal judge for clarification. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.