Supreme Court order again narrows the door for US-bound refugees

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The U.S. Supreme Court has stayed part of a lower court's ruling last week that opened the door for more refugees to arrive in the United States, exempt from President Trump's temporary travel ban.

The Trump administration had appealed to the high court following the ruling last week, which among other things allowed refugees to continue on their way to the United States if they had formal assurance from a U.S. resettlement agency.

On Wednesday, the high court blocked that part of the Hawaii order, meaning that once again, a relationship with a U.S. resettlement agency is not enough to exempt refugees from a 120-day ban on refugee arrivals.

According to the Associated Press, up to 24,000 refugees who already have been assigned to a charity or religious organization in the U.S. will not be able to use that connection to get into the country.

"This ruling jeopardizes the safety of thousands of people across the world including vulnerable families fleeing war and violence," Naureen Shah, Amnesty International USA's senior director of campaigns, told the AP.

However, the Supreme Court justices did not block a part of the Hawaii order that expanded the definition of close family ties that refugees and other visitors can use in order to qualify for entry, in spite of the travel ban. The Trump administration initially limited these ties to immediate family. But the Hawaii court order expanded the list qualifying relatives to grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins and other family members. That part of the order will stand.

The justices said the federal appeals court in San Francisco should now consider the appeal, according to the AP.

Trump's temporary travel ban took effect at the end of June and initially barred all refugees for 120 days unless they could prove a bona fide relationship with close U.S. relatives or a "U.S. entity," such as an employer. It also barred travelers from six Muslim-majority countries for 90 days unless they could prove the same ties.

Shortly after the ban took effect, the U.S. State Department said that working with a refugee resettlement agency did not count as a qualifying relationship with a U.S. entity.

Last week's order from U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson had changed that: It allowed those who received formal assurance from a U.S. agency for resettlement to continue make their way here, whether or not they had close U.S. relatives.

On Tuesday, the U.S. State Department said in an emailed statement to KPCC that federal officials "are working to ensure the Hawaii District Court ruling is implemented immediately."

However, as of late Tuesday, refugee resettlemen agencies and other groups working with refugees said they had yet to receive clear guidance from the U.S. State Department as to how the Hawaii order would be implemented.

“We’ve received very little guidance so far," said Martin Zogg, executive director of the International Rescue Committee in Los Angeles, on Tuesday afternoon. "We are waiting for the State Department to announce how it is going to implement the U.S. District Court opinion.”

Meanwhile, Zogg said, "not a day goes by when we don't get a visit or phone call from some family member here who is sobbing with concern over someone stuck.”

Jose Serrano with World Relief, a refugee resettlement agency with offices in Garden Grove, said the combination of rapidly changing rules and piecemeal direction since the travel ban took effect has been confusing.

"We're getting just little pieces of information here and there," Serrano said. "We're just hoping that in the long run, it will all make sense."

President Trump's attempts to impose a temporary travel ban on refugees and travelers from six Muslim-majority countries have been met with legal challenges and criticisms that it does not accomplish its aim to keep terrorists out of the country.

As the ban stands now, travelers from the targeted countries who cannot prove a bona fide relationship with a close U.S. relative or U.S. entity are barred from entry for 90 days. 

The travel ban applied to refugees as of July 13, after a cap of 50,000 refugees for fiscal year 2017 set by the Trump administration was reached. 

This story has been updated.

With contributions from Associated Press

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