The White House reversed course over what counts as a close family member under President Trump’s travel ban on Thursday, the same day the policy was taking effect.
The administration, which was predicting a smooth rollout of the executive order, said that refugees and travelers targeted by the ban who have a fiancé in the United States can still come into the country in an apparent last-minute change to the new criteria.
“Upon further review, fiancé will now be included as close family members,” a State Department official said in a statement to The Hill.
The Supreme Court said Monday that parts of Trump’s executive order, which had been put on ice by the lower courts, can be reinstated starting Thursday at 8 p.m. for refugees and travelers from six predominantly Muslim nations who do not have a “bona fide” relationship with a person or entity in the U.S.
The White House, which has been eager to avoid the chaos and confusion that dogged the first rollout of the travel ban earlier this year, said it coordinated closely with agencies and stakeholders to develop clear guidance on the new criteria.
But earlier in the day, officials speaking on a background briefing with reporters did not say that fiancés would count as a close family relationship.
They said foreign travelers from affected countries can only come to the U.S. to visit spouses, parents, parents-in-law, children, adult sons or daughters, siblings, step- or half-siblings, or sons- and daughters-in-law. But the policy excludes entry for visiting cousins, grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and brothers- and sisters-in-law.
The Department of Homeland Security did not update its guidance to include fiancés until sometime after the new travel restrictions took effect at 8 p.m.
The last-minute change comes as the administration has come under scrutiny for its definition of close familial relationships, which officials said they based on the Immigration and Nationality Act.
The state of Hawaii on Thursday filed a court challenge asking a federal judge to clarify that the administration cannot enforce a temporary ban against certain relatives.