Five questions hanging over Trump’s travel ban

Five questions hanging over Trump’s travel ban
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Parts of President Trump’s travel ban finally went into effect Thursday after being bogged down by legal challenges for months.

The Supreme Court decided to allow the executive order to take effect for all refugees and travelers from six majority-Muslim countries who do not have a close connection to a person or entity in the United States.

The move was instantly hailed as a victory by the administration. But it’s still unclear what this means for the fate of the policy, how it will be implemented on the ground and whether there will be significant blowback.


Here are five questions hanging over Trump’s travel ban.


  1. Will the Supreme Court actually weigh in?

In addition to allowing Trump to put a limited version of his ban in place, the Supreme Court also agreed Monday to hear the government’s appeal of lower court rulings that put the ban on ice.

Both the 4th and 9th Circuits largely agreed to uphold district court rulings that blocked core provisions of the order from taking effect, though the federal appeals courts found different reasons to do so. 

A schedule has not yet been set for the Supreme Court’s review of the case, but administration officials said they expect that briefings will be due over the summer and that oral arguments will take place the first week of October, which is when the high court’s next term begins.

“We don’t have finality on that, but that is the expectation within the Department of Justice,” senior officials said Thursday. “And the arguments obviously and the briefing will cover the entire injunction.  Obviously, a significant piece of that injunction was lifted, but we will be hearing – arguing the whole case come October.”

Trump’s order, which was revised from an initial version and signed in March, halts travel for nationals from Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen for 90 days and suspends all refugees from entering the country for 120 days.


But legal experts contend that the Supreme Court may determine that the case is moot, because the 90-day pause on travel will be over by the time the court takes up the case, which means that the justices would not end up ruling on the policy’s merits.


  1. What other legal battles lay ahead?

The ban has racked up other legal challenges as it was taking effect Thursday evening.

The state of Hawaii on Thursday filed a court challenge asking a federal judge to determine whether the administration followed the Supreme Court’s Monday decision. The state argues that the White House interpreted the definition of close family members too narrowly.

“In Hawaii, ‘close family’ includes many of the people that the federal government decided on its own to exclude from that definition," Hawaii Attorney General Douglas Chin said in a statement. "Unfortunately, this severely limited definition may be in violation of the Supreme Court ruling.”

The judge has asked the government to file a response by Monday and ordered the plaintiffs to respond by Thursday, likely pushing off any ruling until at least July 6.

Legal experts – and three dissenting Supreme Court justices – have warned that there could be a flood of lawsuits against the administration as the government makes the difficult decision about who has a connection to the U.S. and who doesn’t.

The government could also run into problems in trying to obtain proper documentation from foreigners who are trying to prove that they meet the necessary criteria.  

Advocacy groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) are already threatening to take legal action over the new ban.

"We call on the Trump administration to withdraw these irrational guidelines, as well as the entire Muslim ban,” said CAIR’s national litigation director Lena Masri. "We will not hesitate to file a legal challenge to any violations of the court's decision."


  1. What is a “bona fide” relationship?

At the crux of the Supreme Court’s decision was whether foreign travelers have a “bona fide” relationship with a person or entity in the U.S.

The administration issued guidance to clarify exactly who is and isn’t covered under the new criteria.

Travelers from affected countries can only come to the U.S. to visit spouses, fiancés, parents, parents-in-law, children, adult sons or daughters, siblings, step- or half-siblings, or sons- and daughters-in-law. 


The policy excludes entry for visiting cousins, grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and brothers- and sisters-in-law.

The White House originally excluded fiancés from the definition, but abruptly reversed course Thursday evening following outcry over issue. Grandparents, another category left off the list and drawing scrutiny, are still not considered close family however.  

Senior officials said they followed the Immigration and Nationality Act in coming up with the definition, but emphasized that determinations will be made on a case-by-case basis, which suggests that there could be some wiggle room.

“If they don’t have the requisite family relationship, if they would like to articulate a reason that we should nevertheless waive the inadmissibility, they are certainly welcome to articulate that reason to us,” officials said during a background briefing. “And we will look at those cases case by case, but it won’t be the relationship that will be the determining factor.”

When it comes to a “bona fide” connection to a business or organization in the U.S., the government’s definition is broader. The administration said that the connection must be formally documented and not formed for the purposes of evading the executive order.

Foreign students who have been accepted to a U.S. school or lecturers invited to speak at an American university would be allowed entry, for example. But officials said that a refugee resettlement organization is not a legitimate connection for refugees.


  1. How much confusion will it cause?

The rollout of the travel ban has so far been significantly less chaotic than the initial version of the policy that went into effect earlier this year.

That ban went into effect immediately and without advance notice, sparking widespread chaos and protests at airports around the country. Some travelers and legal U.S. residents who were caught in transit when the executive order was signed were detained upon entering the country.

But federal agencies had more time to prepare for the changes this time around, and officials made clear that valid visa holders, and any refugees booked for travel through July 6, will still be allowed to enter the country.

“We expect business as usual at the ports of entry starting at 8 p.m. tonight,” senior officials said during a press call on Thursday. “We expect things to run smoothly, and our people are well-prepared for this and they will handle the entry of people with visas professionally, respectfully and responsibly.”

But the biggest changes and confusion could come during the visa application and interview process.

In additional to applying traditional screening standards, consular officers will also now be tasked with determining whether someone meets the additional layers of criteria under the new executive order.

The last-minute change over whether to include fiancés in the definition of a close family member shows that the government is already wrestling with determining who has a strong enough connection to visit the United States.



  1. Will there be backlash from other countries?

There was intense global backlash over Trump’s initial executive order, with leaders around the world quick to condemn the policy.

Iraq, which was originally included in the ban, even mulled imposing similar travel restrictions against the U.S. in response.

But the White House revised the policy to drop Iraq from the list of targeted countries, included waivers for certain circumstances and struck language that would have given preference to religious minorities. Iraq said that the changes sent a “positive message.”

The Supreme Court further narrowed the scope of the ban’s reach this week to allow exceptions for close family members and business relationships.

While human rights groups and opponents still came out in fierce opposition to the ban, it’s unclear whether there will be any retaliation from other nations.

Some travel and tourism groups still worry about the overall message that the ban sends to the rest of the world, even if it’s only a temporary policy.

And others are worried about the potential fallout from Trump’s “extreme vetting” procedures for people seeking visas to enter the U.S., a more permanent step that the administration has been quietly beefing up for months.

"We have heard senior administration members say America is 'open for business' and 'open to the millions of international visitors who wish us well,' but they should be doing as much as possible to make sure there is widespread awareness of that sentiment abroad,” said Jonathan Grella, executive vice president of the U.S. Travel Association.

“An overt message of welcome that accompanies tough talk aimed at terrorists and visa overstayers would do a lot to sustain and grow the immense economic benefit that comes from international travel to the U.S."