SCOTUS Upholds District Court's Clarification of Trump's Travel Ban
Contributor: Van T. Doan
One of the first things Donald Trump did upon taking office was to begin issuing executive orders, the best known of which is likely Trump's travel ban, the first iteration of which appeared on January 27. This executive order was intended to prohibit people traveling from six largely Muslim countries in Africa and the Middle East (Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Iran, Yemen and Syria) from entering the United States. After being blocked repeatedly by multiple federal circuit courts, the United States Supreme Court ultimately permitted portions of the ban contained in Executive Order 13780 to take effect.
The Supreme Court's order stayed, in part, the injunctions against the executive order by the lower court, but did permit some individuals from those six countries to enter the U.S. Those with a "close familial relationship" to U.S. persons were permitted under the Supreme Court ruling to seek immediate-relative visas and family-immigrant visas.
What was a "close familial relationship" for purposes of exemption from the ban? According to the U.S. Department of State, only the following relationships would be included:
- Parents and parents-in-law
- Spouses and fiances
- Minor and adult children
- Sons-in-law and daughters-in-law
- Siblings, including half-siblings and step-siblings
Notably absent from the list were grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews, as well as siblings-in-law. However, a recent ruling from the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii has expanded the category "close familial relationship" for the purposes of immediate-relative visas and family-immigrant visas under Trump's travel ban.
The Hawaii District Court Decision Regarding "Close Familial Relationship"
On July 13, 2017, the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii held that the DOS interpretation of "close familial relationship" was impermissibly narrow. The court further clarified "close familial relationship"to include grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, and siblings-in-law. This interpretation was upheld by the Supreme Court on July 19, 2017. As of this writing, the Department of State's Frequently Asked Questions have been updated to reflect the district court's ruling and expanded definition of "close familial relationship."
Having a close familial relationships does not mean, of course, that visa applicants are exempt from usual procedures; it simply means that they will be permitted to proceed with them.
It should be noted that while the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the District Court's clarification of "close familial relationship", the Supreme Court stayed the portion of the District Court's ruling regarding refugees which would have allowed refugees who have relationships with refugee service organizations to be exempt from the ban.
What the District Court Decision Means for Visa Applicants
Individuals who have applied for immigrant or nonimmigrant visas and had them refused may want to consider whether, in light of the latest ruling, they do actually have a bona fide relationship with a person in the United States who qualifies as a close familial relation.
If the visa application was denied on the basis of Executive Order 13780, applicants should get in contact with the U.S. consulate or embassy at which they applied. Officials are authorized to pursue additional information to determine whether the claimed relationship is genuine, or established for the purpose of circumventing the ban.
Visa applicants, or their relatives in the United States, may also wish to consult with an experienced Maryland immigration attorney.
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Categories: Immigration Law