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Federal Court Judge Reconsiders Trump Travel Ban Definitions

Late Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Derrick K. Watson in Honolulu halted parts of President Trump’s travel ban. Watson contends that the Supreme Court defined “bona fide” relationship too narrowly. The State of Hawaii asked Watson to rule on the definition, which it considered too restrictive.The Supreme Court said last month that foreign nationals from Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia could be temporarily blocked from traveling to the United States unless they meet certain criteria, one of which is a “bona fide” relationship in the United States. Those who had a “close familial relationship” connections would be eligible to travel to the States, but “grandparent” was not considered close enough to be exempt from the ban.

"Common sense … dictates that close family members be defined to include grandparents,” Watson wrote. “Indeed, grandparents are the epitome of close family members. The Government's definition excludes them. That simply cannot be.” Watson ruled the aunts and uncles also have bona fide relationships.

The Supreme Court also said that ties to refugee resettlement agencies don’t count as bona fide relationships, so without family members in the U.S. to help them, refugees from the six Muslim-majority countries would not be allowed entry. Watson challenged that as well, writing:

An assurance from a United States refugee resettlement agency, in fact, meets each of the Supreme Court's touchstones: 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, and it is issued in the ordinary course, and historically has been for decades.

Watson’s ruling in all likelihood guarantees more uncertainty from top to bottom. Ultimately, the person who decides what relationships count as bona fide will be the Border Patrol agent who processes people entering the country, and there’s no way of knowing where each agent will draw the familial cut-off point. 

The courts will certainly be involved again as the Trump Administration can appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals or go directly to the Supreme Court, which will hear the travel ban case in the fall. Because the travel ban was only slated to last for 90 days and “the Supreme Court not slated to return until fall,” Dara Lind wrote at Vox.com, “It’s not clear whether the Trump administration will be able to get a court to pull the gates shut for refugees again before the ban runs out.”

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