Fed­eral rul­ing on travel ban ap­pealed

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE -

HONOLULU — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion late Fri­day ap­pealed di­rectly to the U.S. Supreme Court a fed­eral court’s de­ci­sion to re­open a win­dow for refugees to en­ter the United States.

In Hawaii on Thurs­day, U.S. Dis­trict Judge Der­rick Wat­son ex­panded the list of U.S. fam­ily re­la­tion­ships that refugees and vis­i­tors from six Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity coun­tries can use to get into

the coun­try, in­clud­ing grand­par­ents and grand­chil­dren.

In its ap­peal, the U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment said Wat­son’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Supreme Court’s rul­ing on what fam­ily re­la­tion­ships qual­ify refugees and vis­i­tors from the six 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.

“Once again, we are faced with a sit­u­a­tion in which a sin­gle Fed­eral Dis­trict Court has un­der­taken by a na­tion­wide in­junc­tion to mi­cro­man­age de­ci­sions of the co­equal ex­ec­u­tive branch re­lated to our na­tional se­cu­rity,” At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions said in a state­ment ahead of the ap­peal. “The Supreme Court has had to cor­rect this lower court once, and we will now re­luc­tantly re­turn di­rectly to the Supreme Court to again vin­di­cate the rule of law and the ex­ec­u­tive branch’s duty to pro­tect the na­tion.”

There’s no timetable for the Supreme Court to act, but the ad­min­is­tra­tion will be seek­ing quick ac­tion that clar­i­fies the court’s June opin­ion.

The jus­tices now are scat­tered dur­ing their sum­mer re­cess; any short-term ac­tion would come in writ­ten fil­ings.

The Supreme Court ruled late last month that the gov­ern­ment could be­gin en­forc­ing the mea­sure, but not against those with “a cred­i­ble claim of a bona fide re­la­tion­ship” with a per­son or en­tity in the United States.

The court of­fered only lim­ited guid­ance on what type of re­la­tion­ship would qual­ify. “Close fa­mil­ial” re­la­tion­ships would count, the court said, as would ties such as a job of­fer or school ac­cep­tance let­ter that were “for­mal, doc­u­mented, and formed in the or­di­nary course.”

The rules are not so much an out­right ban as a tight­en­ing of tough visa poli­cies af­fect­ing cit­i­zens from Syria, Su­dan, So­ma­lia, Libya, Iran and Ye­men. Peo­ple from those coun­tries who al­ready have visas will be al­lowed into the U.S.

Only nar­row cat­e­gories of peo­ple, in­clud­ing those with rel­a­tives named in the rul­ing, will be con­sid­ered for new visas. Wat­son, an ap­pointee of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, or­dered the gov­ern­ment not to en­force the ban on grand­par­ents, grand­chil­dren, broth­ersin-law, sis­ters-in-law, aunts, un­cles, nieces, neph­ews and cousins of peo­ple in the U.S.

“Com­mon sense, for in­stance, dic­tates that close fam­ily mem­bers be de­fined to in­clude grand­par­ents,” Wat­son said in his rul­ing. “In­deed grand­par­ents are the epit­ome of close fam­ily mem­bers.”

Wat­son also ruled that the gov­ern­ment may not ex­clude refugees who have for­mal as­sur­ance and prom­ise of place­ment ser­vices from a re­set­tle­ment agency in the U.S.

“An as­sur­ance from a United States refugee re­set­tle­ment agency, in fact, meets each of the Supreme Court’s touch­stones,” he wrote. “It is for­mal, it is a doc­u­mented con­tract, it is bind­ing, it trig­gers re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and obli­ga­tions, in­clud­ing com­pen­sa­tion, it is is­sued spe­cific to an in­di­vid­ual refugee only when that refugee has been ap­proved for en­try by the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity.”

The gov­ern­ment had ar­gued that it drew its def­i­ni­tion of who counted as a close fam­ily mem­ber from im­mi­gra­tion law. The rul­ing is a blow to the ad­min­is­tra­tion, though it al­most cer­tainly won’t be the last word on the case. Both those su­ing over the ban and the gov­ern­ment lawyers de­fend­ing it in­di­cated ear­lier they thought the ques­tion of who could prop­erly be kept out af­ter the Supreme Court un­froze the ban was a mat­ter des­tined for ap­pel­late courts.

And while the Supreme Court par­tially un­froze Trump’s travel ban, it did so only tem­po­rar­ily, indi­cat­ing it would truly take up the case in Oc­to­ber. By that time, the bans might have ex­pired. The bar­ring of new visas to those from six coun­tries is sup­posed to last 90 days, and the bar­ring of refugees is sup­posed to last 120 days.

The Hawaii rul­ing could bring re­lief to more than 24,000 refugees who had al­ready been vet­ted and ap­proved by the United States, re­set­tle­ment agen­cies said.

“Many of them had al­ready sold all of their be­long­ings to start their new lives in safety,” said Becca Heller, di­rec­tor of the In­ter­na­tional Refugee As­sis­tance Project. “This de­ci­sion gives back hope to so many who would oth­er­wise be stranded in­def­i­nitely.”

About 60 per­cent of all refugees ad­mit­ted to the United States last year had fam­ily ties. That fig­ure drops to about 25 per­cent for those from Syria and the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo, among the most com­mon sources of refugees in re­cent years.

Mark Het­field, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of HIAS, a refugee and re­set­tle­ment agency, called Wat­son’s rul­ing “a sen­si­ble and hu­mane in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the plain words of the Supreme Court.”

“Now grand­par­ents and grand­chil­dren who are refugees can be re­united with close fam­ily in the U.S., and U.S. com­mu­ni­ties can wel­come those refugees for whom they have been wait­ing,” he said.

White House home­land se­cu­rity ad­viser Tom Bossert told re­porters that Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion lawyers will closely re­view the rul­ing, but it ap­pears broad enough to “cover ev­ery refugee.”

Bossert said he does not be­lieve that was the in­ter­pre­ta­tion the U.S. Supreme Court in­tended when it re­in­stated the travel ban against those with­out a “bona fide re­la­tion­ship” with a per­son or an en­tity in the U.S.

The jus­tices didn’t de­fine a bona fide re­la­tion­ship but said it could in­clude a close rel­a­tive, a job of­fer or ad­mis­sion to a col­lege or univer­sity. A re­la­tion­ship cre­ated to avoid the ban would not be ac­cept­able, they said.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion de­fined it as those who had a par­ent, spouse, fi­ance, son, daugh­ter, son-in-law, daugh­ter-in-law or sib­ling al­ready in the U.S.

The case re­turned to Wat­son when the 9th U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals ruled that he had the au­thor­ity to in­ter­pret the Supreme Court’s or­der and block any vi­o­la­tion of it. He broad­ened the def­i­ni­tion of what counts as a close re­la­tion­ship.

Hawaii At­tor­ney Gen­eral Dou­glas Chin, who filed the case for the broader def­i­ni­tion, said the court made clear “that the U.S. gov­ern­ment may not ig­nore the scope of the par­tial travel ban as it sees fit.”

“Fam­ily mem­bers have been sep­a­rated and real peo­ple have suf­fered enough,” Chin said in a state­ment.

In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Jen­nifer Sinco Kelle­her, An­drew Dal­ton, Julie Wat­son and Ali­cia A. Cald­well of The As­so­ci­ated Press; by Matt Zapotosky of The Washington

Post; and by Miriam Jor­dan and Vi­vian Yee of The New York Times.

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