President Donald Trump scored a partial win when the U.S. Supreme Court approved implementation of a narrowed version of his travel ban on refugees for 120 days and nationals from six Muslim-majority countries for 90 days. The Supreme Court says it will hear arguments on the ban, which was blocked by lower courts, as soon as October. In the meantime, it allowed the administration to enforce the prohibition against foreigners who lack a "bona fide" relationship with the U.S. Then in a defeat for Trump, a judge in Hawaii opened the door even further with a ruling July 13 that the government’s definition of "bona fide" relationship is too restrictive.
1. What’s a ‘bona fide’ relationship with the U.S.?
According to the Supreme Court’s June 26 order, such relationships include having family in the country or a connection to a U.S. business or school, as long as it is "formal, documented" and not formed for the purpose of evading the president’s edict. The court included admission to a university, an accepted job offer and an invitation to lecture as "bona fide" relationships. It explicitly excluded refugee applicants who are signed up by nonprofit groups after the ruling simply to form a relationship.
2. What does the Trump administration say it means?
According to guidance issued by the State Department, "bona fide" relationship means a parent, parent-in-law, spouse, child, sibling, son-in-law or daughter-in-law, and includes half and step relations. Not included were grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law. An official of the Trump administration said it based its guidance on the definition of family in the Immigration and Nationality Act and on the Supreme Court’s ruling. The government initially excluded fiances, but then changed course to allow them on June 29, the day it began implementing the policy. In addition, the government says pre-existing ties with U.S.-based refugee resettlement agencies don’t count, potentially leaving many refugees in limbo.
3. How have immigrant advocates responded?
On June 29, the state of Hawaii made an emergency request to a lower-court judge in Honolulu to clarify the meaning of the Supreme Court’s ruling. Hawaii claims the court meant to include people with grandparents and grandchildren, brothers- and sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, or cousins in the U.S. And it claims connections to refugee resettlement agencies are "bona fide" connections to the U.S. Refugees generally are integrated into the U.S. through such agencies. U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson agreed, in a July 13 ruling in which he said the government’s definition of family was "the antithesis of common sense."
4. Will there be more court challenges?
Probably. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, in a partial dissent joined by Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch, predicted a "flood of litigation" as everyone struggles to figure out "what exactly constitutes a bona fide relationship." Thomas and the others said Trump’s order should be reinstated without any exceptions until the court rules on the case. Litigation could also be triggered when a visa applicant from one of the six targeted countries -- Iran, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Sudan and Somalia -- is denied an entry permit.
5. What happens after the 90- and 120-day bans expire?
There are a few scenarios that could play out. Trump could simply extend them with another order. He could declare victory when the time is up, and say he succeeded in ensuring national security by instituting the bans while visa-entry procedures were reviewed. That review was resumed June 23. He could make the travel ban a more permanent policy by requiring the six countries to share more information about visa applicants before the order against their nationals is rescinded, likely triggering further litigation. The ultimate fate of the bans depends on what the Supreme Court says in its final ruling.
The Reference Shelf
- The Supreme Court’s June 26 decision to hear the travel ban appeal and allowing the ban to go forward blocking the entry of travelers without a connection to the U.S.
- The text of Trump’s revised and original executive order, and the Ninth Circuit court’s ruling blocking its implementation.
- A White House Q&A about the second order.
- A Quick Take explainer on refugees and political asylum.
- Trump’s ban is an attack on religious liberty, writes Bloomberg View columnist Noah Feldman.
- A profile of the first judge to block Trump’s order.