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Travel Ban Update: New Compromise

The Supreme Court has announced a new compromise over President Trump’s travel ban. The government may enforce tight restrictions on refugees, but it must also adhere to the expanded definition of close familial relationship, which was handed down by Hawaii District Court Judge Derrick Watson last week.

What has happened since the Supreme Court got involved? On June 26, the Supreme Court narrowed lower court injunctions blocking the President’s travel ban. In effect, the 90-day hiatus prohibiting foreign nationals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the U.S. was reinstated. The Court added, however, that demonstrating a bona fide relationship to a close family member or entity in the U.S. is enough to avoid the travel restrictions. Among others, legal permanent residents and individuals already holding a valid visa were also exempt. The only problem was that the Court did not define close family member. The term was left to the government’s own interpretation.

Initially, it was understood to include a parent (including parent-in-law), spouse, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law or sibling (whether whole or half). It did not include grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, fiancés and any other “extended” family members. The state of Hawaii challenged, and on July 13 the meaning of close family member was expanded. Grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, first-cousins, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law and fiancés were now included.

The Hawaii District Court also determined that a refugee resettlement organization’s interactions with a refugee constituted a bona fide relationship. This meant the roughly 24,000 refugees with formal assurances from resettlement agencies would be admitted to the U.S. despite hitting the 50,000 admission cap a day earlier. The latest Supreme Court decision overturns this portion of the Hawaii ruling, and allows the government to enforce the tight refugee restrictions previously in place.

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