Wall Street Journal
By Laura Meckler and Brent Kendall
June 29, 2017
WASHINGTON—The Trump administration will begin enforcing its travel ban on people from six Muslim-majority nations on Thursday, with exceptions only for those with close family or business ties, officials said.
Guidance will be made public Thursday on details of who qualifies for the exceptions mandated by the Supreme Court, which on Monday allowed a modified version of President Donald Trump’s travel ban to take effect. Mr. Trump argues the temporary ban is needed to guard against terrorism.
The court said the ban could be implemented in the months before it hears a pair of legal challenges this fall. But it also ordered the administration to make exceptions for visa and refugee applicants who have a “bona fide” relationship with people or institutions in the U.S.
The State Department sent out a cable on Wednesday to embassies saying that it will require a close family or business tie to the U.S., a U.S. official said.
A version of the guidelines under discussion late Wednesday afternoon called for a restricted definition of family ties, according to a person familiar with the discussion. Under this version, applicants would need to prove a relationship to a parent, spouse, child, adult son or daughter, son- or daughter-in-law or sibling in the U.S., he said. Others, including grandparents, grandchildren and fiancés, wouldn’t qualify.
Late Wednesday, the Associated Press reported that this version of the policy had been completed and sent to U.S. embassies.
Omar Jadwat, the lead attorney on this issue for the American Civil Liberties Union, replied with dismay to the news. “Spouse, but not fiancé? Son-in-law, but not mother-in-law? Makes no sense,” he wrote on Twitter.
One administration official said the goal of the guidelines is to ensure the exceptions aren’t so broad as to swallow the rules altogether and allow virtually anyone to come in.
There are few expectations of the sort of chaos at airports that accompanied Mr. Trump’s first version of this executive order. After its release in January, some travelers were abruptly stopped at arrival gates and sometimes held for hours. A flurry of court challenges followed, and thousands of people protested at airports around the country.
The March order allows for existing visas to remain valid, including those issued as recently as Wednesday. So it is unlikely that people will be turned back unexpectedly in the near term.
Guidelines being issued to Customs and Border Protection agents who work at airports are to honor valid visas and only turn back people who would be rejected under normal operating procedures, the administration official said.
Airlines abroad were awaiting details of the travel restrictions. Airline officials said they were ready to quickly inform passengers to minimize disruptions.
Still, immigration advocates are bracing for trouble. Amnesty International USA said it would station researchers at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C., on Thursday to monitor implementation of the new rules.
An Amnesty spokeswoman said it is unclear exactly what guidelines border agents will be given. “Because immigration officers have such discretionary power, we’re not sure what they will abide by,” she said. “It’s very up in the air.”
Questions also remain about how to interpret the Supreme Court order.
A letter sent Tuesday to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly by advocacy groups, including Muslim Advocates, said: “The public is in urgent need of information about the manner through which persons can establish a ‘bona fide’ relationship with a person or entity in the United States,” as well as how to make such a request.
Beyond the new travel rules, the DHS is also developing new rules for vetting visa and refugee applicants, and is conducting a country-by-country review of security procedures that could lead to new and possibly more sweeping travel restrictions by people from the six targeted countries and elsewhere.
Mr. Kelly said Wednesday that he looks forward to those reviews.
By the time “the government wins this case in the Supreme Court, we’ll be able to move forward—not focusing on people from one religion or one culture, but focusing on every airport, every country around the world, doing a better job at determining who the person is who wants to come and why they want to come here,” he said at a conference sponsored by the Center for a New American Security.
When the Supreme Court hears arguments on the executive order in October, it is possible that the original travel restrictions will have been replaced by new ones, based on the reviews that are now under way. That could give the court an opening to avoid issuing a definitive ruling on the policy now in place.
The Supreme Court’s decision on Monday wasn’t exactly what either side wanted. The court’s unsigned opinion said it was attempting to strike a balance until the justices could give the case full consideration in the fall.
The court didn’t offer a comprehensive list of what U.S. connections allow travelers to avoid the ban, but it did list some examples. It said traveling to visit or live with a close family member in the U.S. would count. It also cited students who have been admitted to U.S. universities, workers who have accepted jobs from U.S. companies and lecturers who have been invited to address a U.S. audience.
Three conservative justices on Monday expressed concern that the compromise approach could prove unworkable and generate more litigation.
Dueling reactions from the White House, and civil-rights and immigrant-rights groups on Monday suggest each side may have a different vision of how broad a ban can be in place for now.
Mr. Trump applauded the decision as a significant win for his effort to combat terrorism. But critics argued the travel restrictions endorsed by the court are narrow. Refugee organizations, for example, say that virtually any refugee can claim a relationship to the U.S. because of their ties to resettlement organizations that partner with the State Department.
—Felicia Schwartz contributed to this article.
Write to Laura Meckler at firstname.lastname@example.org and Brent Kendall at email@example.com
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