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What the Supreme Court travel ban decision means for SoCal

FILE: Protesters hold signs outside Terminal 2 at Los Angeles International Airport on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017, amid calls to release immigrants detained under President Donald Trump's initial executive order banning travel from several majority-Muslim nations. Brian Frank/KPCC

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday allowed President Trump’s revised travel ban to go fully forward, allowing the government to ban or restrict immigration and travel from eight countries, six of them with Muslim majorities. 

The countries affected by the latest ban are Syria, Iran, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and Chad, along with North Korea and Venezuela.

Southern California saw freer travel from the Muslim-majority countries prior to Trump taking office, but the Supreme Court decision closes the door to travel for many, at least for now.

Trump's third and most recent travel ban, announced in September, was blocked in October by two lower-court injunctions pending legal challenges brought in Hawaii and Maryland. But the government asked the Supreme Court to let the ban take effect for now despite the challenges.

Only two justices, Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, disagreed with the decision to let it move forward, NPR reported.

Now, even travelers from the affected countries with close family relationships will be barred from entering the U.S., said attorney Farida Chehata with the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Anaheim.

“There are a lot of people that have pending applications that effectively will now not be able to receive any kind of approval," Chehata said. 

She said she has observed "a lot of fatigue" among local families with relatives abroad who have been affected by the three travel bans, the first of which was announced last January and created chaos at airports across the country, including in Los Angeles.

Since then, rules for these would-be immigrants and travelers have continued to shift amid legal challenges.  

"We're seeing people that have just been through the wringer over the past 12 months," Chehata said. "They just can't handle any more of it. They don’t want to be applying for visas and having to go through all these hoops with the uncertainty of not knowing if one day they will qualify, and one day they won't."

The Los Angeles region is home to many with ties to the affected countries. It has one of the largest Iranian American populations in the country, estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands. California is also a top destination for Syrian immigrants. An Migration Policy Institute report from 2015 estimated that 30 percent of the U.S. Syrian immigrant population resided in the state.

Federal officials say they chose the Muslim-majority countries and others named in the travel ban because they failed to cooperate with the United States on security and counterterrorism efforts. Opponents of the travel ban, including the state of Hawaii, have argued in legal challenges that the travel policy discriminates against Muslims and is unconstitutional.

While the rules vary somewhat by country, most immigrant and non-immigrant travel from the six Muslim-majority countries has been blocked. The same holds true for North Korea, but very few North Koreans ever make it to the U.S. because of strict exit policies. In the case of Venezuela, the ban only affects a handful of government officials and their families.

The Supreme Court's latest decision on the travel ban is not a final one. The 9th and 4th Circuit Courts of Appeals are hearing arguments in separate challenges to the Trump policy this week.

"The appeals will now focus on the merits of whether the executive order is constitutionally permissible or not," said John Eastman, Chapman University constitutional law professor. "If the government loses, the government will appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States."

Eastman said he thinks the Trump administration will ultimately prevail in court.

“I have been of the view from the outset that these orders were perfectly legal," Eastman said. "There is a federal statute adopted back in the 1950s that explicitly gives the president the authority to do what he has done here."

Meanwhile, immigration lawyers and advocates have been monitoring airport arrivals since the latest court decision in case any travelers are detained or otherwise run into trouble. In January, after the initial travel ban was announced, some travelers and immigrants with valid visas were detained for hours. Selected travelers were forced back to their countries of origin. 

Chehata and other attorneys said they've not encountered any problems at LAX since the latest court decision. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials did not respond to a request for comment.