Start of revised ban less chaotic
Travel rules face new legal challenge
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban was implemented without the chaos seen in January under the original executive order. But the new rules immediately faced a new court challenge, promising further legal wrangling on the president’s signature immigration policy.
The Department of Homeland Security said it had expected a smooth implementation.
“U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers are trained and prepared to professionally process in accordance with the laws of the United States persons with valid visas who present themselves for entry,” according to a department statement. “We expect no disruptions to service.”
Zahra Billoo, executive director of the Council of American Islamic Relations in San Francisco, was at the city’s international airport Thursday when the travel restrictions took effect, waiting for refugees and immigrants in need of legal aid. Standing among protesters who were rallying against the president’s
decree, Billoo said she hopes Hawaii’s legal challenge succeeds.
“We’re hopeful that continued legal challenges will make it near impossible for the Trump administration to implement any portion of the Muslim or refugee ban,” she said, adding that the Supreme Court may be asked to clarify its ruling. “This is uncharted territory.”
A half-hour before the ban took effect, Hawaii asked a judge to clarify whether the government violated instructions from the U.S. Supreme Court in defining who’s covered by the ban and who’s excluded. The U.S. Justice Department declined to comment.
To minimize disruptions this time, the State Department, the Homeland Security Department and the Justice Department coordinated in advance to establish clearer guidelines for thousands of consular officers, airlines and travelers. And unlike in January, when hundreds of travelers arriving in the U.S. were turned back or detained at airports, those already holding a valid visa will be let in.
“The American public could have legitimate concerns about their safety when we open our doors,” State Department spokesman Heather Nauert said at a briefing Thursday. “We want to open our doors to people who are willing to go through proper screening measures and who want to be here and want to be productive members of our society.”
The latest effort followed a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this week that travelers from the six nations — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — with “bona fide” connections in the U.S. be exempted from the travel ban. That definition was interpreted to mean that travelers with specific, close family members in the U.S., including spouses, children, and siblings, could be let in. But people whose closest connections are grandparents, aunts and uncles could be barred.
Students or travelers with business or professional ties from the affected countries also are exempt if they can show a relationship that’s formal and documented and not based on an intent to evade the ban.
Hawaii is now taking issue with how the government defines family ties.
“Our concern is that when you read their definition of what constitutes a close family relationship, they’re cutting out a lot of people,” said the state’s attorney general, Doug Chin. He filed his emergency request Thursday for clarification with the same judge, Derrick Watson, who previously blocked Trump’s March executive order from taking effect.
In Iran, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denounced the partial reinstatement of the travel ban as a “truly shameful exhibition of blind hostility to all Iranians” — and argued that the measure will prevent Iranian grandmothers from seeing their grandchildren in America.
Zarif, who has persistently assailed the travel ban, wrote on his Twitter account that the “U.S. now bans Iranian grandmothers from seeing their grandchildren, in a truly shameful exhibition of blind hostility to all Iranians.”
Speaking to reporters on background, with an agreement to anonymity, an administration official said the U.S. needs every available tool to keep terrorists from coming to the country.
The State Department’s official guidance, which was posted on its website, grants significant discretion to consular officers who will approve visas in U.S. embassies and outposts around the world. For example, guidance sent to embassies says that consular officers can determine whether granting a visa to an applicant from one of the six nations would be in the U.S.’s national interest, even if they don’t have the close familial connections normally required.
Yet many of the original criticisms of the ban remain. Administration officials wouldn’t explain why the ban targets the six countries or why refugees are deemed a threat to national security. Of 784,000 refugees resettled in the U.S. since 2011, just three were arrested for allegedly planning terrorist activities, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
The government quickly backed off on at least one controversial restriction. In a version of the new rules posted earlier Thursday, people engaged to be married weren’t among those deemed as having “bona fide” ties. But later in the day, without explanation, the State Department updated its guidance to say that such people would be treated as close family members.
Before the State Department relented, immigration lawyers said it made no sense to exclude people engaged to wed because there is already rigorous vetting aimed at rooting out marriage fraud.
Foreigners engaged to marry a U.S. citizen have long had to provide detailed documentation of the relationship’s authenticity and undergo background checks to get a fiance or fiancee visa, known as a K-1.
Scrutiny of such visas increased after the 2015 San Bernardino, Calif., massacre that left 14 people dead. Tashfeen Malik, who carried out the attack with her U.S.born husband, came to this
country in 2014 on a fiancee visa. She was from Pakistan, a country not covered by the travel ban.
The K-1 program is one of the smallest visa programs managed by the government. Out of the more than 10.3 million nonimmigrant visas issued in fiscal 2016, just 38,403 — roughly 0.3 percent — were K-1 visas.
Government officials gave no explanation for why fiances and fiancees were omitted in the first place but said the decision to allow engaged couples to be together was based in part on language in the Immigration and Nationality Act, the law long used to determine what constitutes a close relationship.
Those seeking to bring their betrothed to the U.S. faced a roller coaster of reactions as the scaled-back travel ban was put in place.
Shukri Abdul, a 34-yearold medical interpreter from St. Paul, Minn., has been planning to fly to Malaysia on Monday to meet her fiance ahead of his interview for a K-1 visa. After hours of uncertainty and anguish, she is still planning to go.
The pair have known each other since they were young children growing up in Somalia. While Abdul later moved to the United States and became a citizen, they reconnected last year on Facebook. She went to see him in Somalia, and they got engaged, but Abdul said she didn’t want to run off and get married without her five children there to support them.
“That is why we were doing the wedding here, not there,” she said. “They were excited for me to get happiness.”
Paul Gottinger, who applied nearly a year ago to bring his Iranian fiancee to the United States so they could be married, went to bed Thursday feeling hopeless.
Gottinger said he met his 32-year-old fiancee, who is a food engineer, online. He said the pair traveled to Istanbul to meet in person in 2016 and decided to marry a month later. The couple applied for the visa nearly a year ago but are still waiting on a decision from the U.S. government.
“It’s a very unconventional and trying process,” he said. “But for us, we’re in love and we’re going to do this.”
He said they have talked about moving to Iran, but there are concerns for his safety as an American.
“We’re really just kind of trapped between both of our countries,” Gottinger said. “We’re not going to give up and just stop loving someone.”
The Supreme Court’s decision also revived Trump’s efforts to suspend refugee admissions for 120 days and to reduce the maximum number of refugees allowed into the country to 50,000 from 110,000. The president has cited the risk of terrorists slipping into the U.S., while critics have said the ban discriminates against Muslims.
Refugee Council USA has asked that the U.S. give a blanket waiver to unaccompanied children even if they don’t have a “bona fide” relationship with people or entities in the U.S.
“This population of extraordinarily vulnerable refugee children, who have lost or been separated from their parents, often have no other options,” the group said in a letter sent June 28 to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and John Kelly, the secretary of homeland security. “As a result, they should not be left in harm’s way.”
Nongovernmental organizations and refugee advocates have struggled to determine how many people will actually be affected by the new restrictions. The U.S. has already admitted about 49,000 refugees so far this year, just shy of the executive order’s 50,000 cap.
Information for this article was contributed by Nick Wadhams, Justin Mattingly, Kartikay Mehrotra, Jennifer Jacobs, Deena Kamel Yousef, Nafeesa Syeed, Reade Pickert, Mary Schlangenstein and Arit John of Bloomberg News and by Colleen Long, Matthew Lee, Alicia A. Caldwell, Amy Taxin, Andrew Dalton, Michael Noble and Deepti Hajela of The Associated Press.
Immigration attorney Maggie Castillo (left) of the American Immigrants Lawyers Association, offered her services at the Los Angeles International Airport as the new travel ban affects people from six Muslim-majority countries. A scaled-back version of President Donald Trump’s travel ban took effect Thursday evening.