Close family ties, job offers considered 'bona fide' as Trump travel ban takes effect

Ariella Morrison with the legal advocacy group One Justice sets up in the Los Angeles International Airport overseas arrivals area on June 29, 2017.
Ariella Morrison with the legal advocacy group One Justice sets up in the Los Angeles International Airport overseas arrivals area on June 29, 2017.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

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 new guidelines were set to take effect at 5 p.m. Pacific time Thursday afternoon.

At LAX by early afternoon, attorneys for legal advocacy groups had set up in the Tom Bradley International Terminal arrivals area, offering help to anyone encountering problems entering the country.

Talia Inlender from the legal advocacy group Public Counsel said the guidance given to customs officials makes clear that people with valid visas should be permitted to enter.

“They should not be subject to additional questioning or scrutiny. They’ve already been through that process and should be able to enter without a problem," she said. "So we’re here hoping things will go smoothly on the ground but we’re here to monitor in case that doesn’t happen.”

It was clear sailing for Naseeha Hussain, 28, a U.S. citizen from Woodland Hills. She is Muslim and wears a hijab.  Returning from Jordan, she was a little worried she would be stopped at customs after Muslims were advised to be cautious.

“I was sort of on guard because of that stuff, but today I didn’t have any issues, thankfully,” she said.

A few protesters demonstrating against the travel ban gathered at the airport but by mid-afternoon were not disrupting traffic.

The modified order 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.

Masih Fouladi, with the Council on American Islamic Relations, says customs and border patrol officials have leeway in interpreting the ban.

"We shouldn't be seeing too many people being held up," he told Alex Cohen on KPCC's Morning Edition. "If we do, then we know that customs and border patrol are not following the guidelines properly."

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.

President Trump originally tried to impose the ban in order to allow the federal government to review its vetting procedures for people from those six majority-Muslim nations. (The order originally included people from Iraq as well, but that nation was dropped after the administration realized its inclusion would hurt cooperation from the Baghdad government in the fight against ISIS.)

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."

This story has been updated.