Feds ap­peal judge’s rul­ing on ‘close’ fam­ily in travel ban

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - POLITICS - By Ali­cia A. Cald­well and El­liot Sp­a­gat

WASHINGTON — The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is seek­ing to close a le­gal win­dow opened for tens of thou­sands of refugees to en­ter the United States, ap­peal­ing a fed­eral judge’s or­der di­rectly to the Supreme Court.

U.S. Dis­trict Judge Der­rick Wat­son had or­dered the gov­ern­ment to al­low in refugees for­mally work­ing with a re­set­tle­ment agency in the United States. His or­der also vastly ex­panded the list of U.S. fam­ily re­la­tion­ships that refugees and vis­i­tors from six Mus­lim­ma­jor­ity coun­tries can use to get into the coun­try, in­clud­ing grand­par­ents and grand­chil­dren.

In its ap­peal Fri­day night, the Jus­tice Depart­ment said Wat­son’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Supreme Court’s rul­ing on what fam­ily re­la­tion­ships qual­ify refugees and vis­i­tors from the six Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity coun­tries to en­ter the U.S. “emp­ties the court’s de­ci­sion of mean­ing, as it en­com­passes not just ‘close’ fam­ily mem­bers, but vir­tu­ally all fam­ily mem­bers. Treat­ing all of these re­la­tion­ships as ‘close fa­mil­ial re­la­tion­ship(s)’ reads the term ‘close’ out of the Court’s de­ci­sion.”

Only the Supreme Court can de­cide these is­sues sur­round­ing the travel ban, the Jus­tice Depart­ment said. “Only this Court can defini­tively set­tle whether the gov­ern­ment’s rea­son­able im­ple­men­ta­tion is con­sis­tent with this Court’s stay,” it said.

On Satur­day, the U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment asked the Ninth Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals to put Wat­son’s rul­ing on hold while the Supreme Court con­sid­ers its ap­peal.

The long, tan­gled le­gal fight is ex­pected to cul­mi­nate with ar­gu­ments be­fore the na­tion’s high court in Oc­to­ber.

Wat­son’s rul­ing could help more than 24,000 refugees al­ready vet­ted and ap­proved by the United States but barred by the 120-day freeze on refugee ad­mis­sions, said Becca Heller, direc­tor of the In­ter­na­tional Refugee As­sis­tance Project, a re­set­tle­ment agency.

“Many of them had al­ready sold all of their be­long­ings to start their new lives in safety,” she said. “This de­ci­sion gives back hope to so many who would oth­er­wise be stranded in­def­i­nitely.”

Cit­ing a need to re­view its vet­ting process to en­sure na­tional se­cu­rity, the ad­min­is­tra­tion capped refugee ad­mis­sions at 50,000 for the 12-month pe­riod end­ing Sept. 30, a ceil­ing it hit this week.

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions had said the ad­min­is­tra­tion would ask the Supreme Court to weigh in, by­pass­ing the San Fran­cisco-based 9th U.S Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals, which has ruled against it in the case.

The Supreme Court al­lowed a scaled-back ver­sion of the travel ban to take ef­fect last month.


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