Photographer: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Trump Loses Appeal on Relatives Covered by Travel Ban

  • Court keeps door open to immigrants with grandparents in U.S.
  • President also overruled on his restrictions on refugees

President Donald Trump suffered another setback on his embattled travel ban, with an appeals panel leaving in a place a lower-court ruling that forces the administration to accept people with grandparents, cousins and other relatives in the U.S.

Thursday’s decision by a three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based appeals court further frustrates the administration as it heads toward an Oct. 10 showdown before the U.S. Supreme Court over the broader legality of the president’s executive order temporarily barring travelers from six mostly Muslim nations.

The Ninth Circuit panel also said Trump was wrong in how he interpreted an earlier order by the high court affecting thousands of refugees seeking entry into the U.S.

“The Supreme Court has stepped in to correct these lower courts before, and we will now return to the Supreme Court to vindicate the executive branch’s duty to protect the nation,” a Justice Department spokeswoman said in an email.

The Supreme Court on June 26 let the government enforce a limited travel ban, saying the U.S. had to admit at least some close relatives though the court didn’t list all the relationships that qualified. The Trump administration then agreed to let people enter if they had a parent, spouse, fiance, child, sibling, son- or daughter-in-law, or a parent-in-law in the country.

One of the travel ban’s challengers, Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin, contended the criteria for close relatives was too restrictive. He argued that people with grandparents, cousins and aunts and uncles in the U.S. qualify as having “bona fide” connections and should be excluded from the ban on travelers from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Read More -- What Is a ‘Bona Fide’ Tie for Trump Travel Ban?: QuickTake Q&A

Chin also challenged Trump’s interpretation of the Supreme Court order as giving him authority to exclude refugees even if a resettlement agency had promised that it would provide basic services for them.

The refugee suspension was expected to affect thousands of people covered by what are known as "assurances," formal promises by resettlement agencies to provide housing and other necessities. Advocates say those people have been thoroughly vetted and don’t pose a national security threat.

The Ninth Circuit judges said in Thursday’s ruling that the Honolulu federal judge who sided with Chin was right on both counts.

“The district court carefully and correctly balanced the hardships and the equitable considerations as directed by the Supreme Court,” the panel wrote.

Chin said the appeals court ruling “keeps families together.”

“It gives vetted refugees a second chance,” he said in a statement. “The Trump administration keeps taking actions with no legal basis. We will keep fighting back.”

Trump’s March 6 executive order said the 90-day travel ban and 120-day refugee ban would give officials time to assess U.S. vetting procedures and would address an “unacceptably high” risk that terrorists could slip into the country. Lower courts had blocked the ban, saying Trump overstepped his authority and unconstitutionally targeted Muslims.

The case is Trump v. Hawaii. 17-16426, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (San Francisco).

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