President Trump’s Travel Ban, An Explainer

Photo by Gregory Varnum

New travel rules restricting travel from several Muslim-majority countries went into effect earlier this month. If this sound familiar, these new rules are a follow-up to two previous attempts that had stalled in the face of court challenges, first in February and then in March. However, on June 26, the United States Supreme Court allowed for a limited, temporary version until the court considers the U.S. government’s case in full in October. However, even a month later, questions about how the rules are implemented, including who will be affected have undergone numerous challenges by civil liberties organizations and state attorneys and courts.

What rules did the original ban put in place?

The original ban, under Executive Order 13769, barred entry into the U.S. for people from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Sudan and Somalia for 90 days and from Syria indefinitely and froze the U.S. refugee resettlement program for 120 days. In addition, it limited the number of refugees coming into the country in 2017 to 50,000, down from the Obama administration cap of 100,000. A follow-up executive order, 13780, which clarified rules regarding visa holders and dropped Iraq from the list among other changes, was blocked as well.

What were the effects of the previous attempts at a ban?

In short: chaos in court and at airports.

Because of the targeting of only Muslim majority countries and Trump campaign rhetoric, courts, notably in Hawaii and Maryland, found the order in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1965, which states “No person shall receive any preference or priority or be discriminated against in the issuance of an immigrant visa because of the person’s race, sex, nationality, place of birth, or place of residence” As mentioned, the travel order was halted twice on these grounds.

At airports, unclear and often conflicting and changing enforcement guidelines from the Trump administration led to a host of problems. Many valid visa holders from the affected countries were denied entry and even had their visas revoked at customs. More problematically, green-card holders were often denied initial entry. While the U.S. government reported green-card holders were ultimately allowed into the country, many faced long detentions at airport security. Dual nationals traveling under a passport not on the list had faced similar hassles as well.

What has changed in this version of the ban?

Iraq had been dropped from the list of affected countries and the indefinite ban on Syrian refugees was removed as well. Moreover, the current ban makes clear that visa and green card holders as well as dual nationals will be allowed entry.

What is unclear is the requirement that people from the list countries have a ‘bona fide’ connection to the country. These connections fall under two main categories: a formal relationship with an entity in the U.S. and familial connections.

What is a bona fide connection?

For entities, according to the Supreme Court, “the relationship must be formal, documented, and formed in the ordinary course, rather than for the purpose of evading the order.” Examples of a formal relationship in accordance with the order with an entity include, but are not restricted to, enrollment in a university, employment, and journalists connected to an accredited news outlet. However, while obvious ‘ad-hoc’ connections such as a hotel reservation are barred, an established one with a refugee resettlement agency does not yet meet the standards of ‘good faith.’

Even more contentious were the guidelines for what constitutes a ‘close familial relationship.’ Visits were initially restricted to parents, spouses, and siblings. However, legal challenges and clarifying statements by the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately carved out exemptions for fiancés, cousins, grandchildren, sisters- and brothers-in-law, nephews/nieces, and only most recently grandparents.

I have been or might be affected by this travel ban in some way. What should I do?

Despite changes and clarifications from federal courts, the rules for the travel ban are influx and continue to face legal challenges. Please consult the U.S. State Department for current rules or, if applicable in your case, immigration lawyers prior to travel or if you anticipate family members traveling to the U.S., even with valid visas. Also, again, the travel ban guidelines discussed in this article are only temporary and will probably change when the U.S. Supreme Court reviews the ban again in October.

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