Questions plague Trump travel ban even after court ruling

Posted June 29, 2017, at 10:27 a.m.
Last modified June 29, 2017, at 11:02 a.m.

The Trump administration is scrambling to figure out how it will begin enforcing its travel ban perhaps as soon as Thursday, though many important questions remain unanswered about it.

Hoping to prevent the sorts of chaos and confusion that followed the government’s first travel ban in January, advocates for immigrants and refugees are calling for clarity. Others have filed Freedom of Information Act requests, demanding information about how the directive will be implemented. Some filed papers Wednesday in a federal court in Washington, D.C., seeking to stop key parts of the executive order.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security — which will play a key role in carrying out the executive order — told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday that it was consulting with the Justice and State departments and would “release additional information tomorrow” about how the directive would be carried out.

The State Department announced the timing of the travel ban this week, saying it would begin implementing the directive 72 hours after the court issued its ruling, which falls on Thursday. A spokeswoman for the agency told reporters Tuesday that the State Department was still consulting with the Justice Department about the meaning of a key part of the court’s order. At issue is an exception the court has created for certain travelers.

In its 13-page ruling, the court partially granted the Trump administration’s request to lift preliminary injunctions against the directive and let it block visitors from six Muslim-majority countries for 90 days, freeze the nation’s refugee resettlement program for 120 days and limit the number of refugees who may be brought here this fiscal year to 50,000.

But the court said those restrictions cannot be applied to people with a “bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.” In its ruling, the court gave some examples of visitors and refugees who would be exempt from the reinstated travel ban while justices consider arguments in the case: people who are seeking to live with or visit family members here, workers who have accepted jobs from U.S. companies and lecturers invited to address American audiences.

“Bona fide relationship — we don’t have a definition here at the State Department for that yet,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters Tuesday in Washington. “None of the agencies has that definition just yet. That we will be working to get; that I anticipate will take a couple of days to get.”

Nauert also confirmed that refugees who are scheduled to travel to the U.S. through July 6 can proceed to do so.

“Beyond July the 6th, we are not totally certain how that will work because, again, this is in flux, this is in progress, this is a new development as the Supreme Court just spoke to this yesterday (Monday),” she said.

Further, Nauert said the government has already resettled about 49,000 refugees in the U.S. this fiscal year and that the 50,000 cap cited in President Donald Trump’s executive order should be reached “within the next week or so.”

“Refugees with bona fide ties — which we’re still working on that definition — will not be subject to that cap,” she said.

In a separate opinion they issued Monday, Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch raised concerns that the court’s exceptions for people with bona fide relationships in the U.S. could trigger more legal challenges.

“I fear that the court’s remedy will prove unworkable,” Thomas wrote in their dissenting opinion. “Today’s compromise will burden executive officials with the task of deciding — on peril of contempt — whether individuals from the six affected nations who wish to enter the United States have a sufficient connection to a person or entity in this country.”

Opponents have said the president’s directive amounts to a ban on Muslims and therefore violates the First Amendment’s prohibition on government establishment of religion, a charge the government has denied. Trump has said his travel ban is aimed at preventing terrorist attacks in the U.S.

“As president,” he said in praising the court’s decision Monday, “I cannot allow people into our country who want to do us harm. I want people who can love the United States and all of its citizens, and who will be hardworking and productive.”

On Wednesday, a coalition of Iranian-American advocacy groups filed papers in a federal court in Washington, asking a judge to block key parts of the travel ban from going into effect.

“The public has a strong interest in avoiding the sort of chaos seen at airports when the first executive order went into effect,” their court filing says, “and in permitting refugee applicants who have been fully vetted to enter the United States — in accordance with our obligations under international law and the highest ideals upon which our country was founded.”

The Justice Department declined to comment.

Meanwhile, several groups are pressing the government for information about how it will enforce the travel ban. In a statement released Wednesday, the Southern Poverty Law Center and several other advocacy organizations said the Trump administration should “provide guidance to protect the rights of immigrants and travelers to the United States, and to limit the inevitable confusion and chaos that will arise out of implementation” of the executive order.

At the same time, refugee resettlement agencies are racing to determine how the travel ban could affect their clients, many of whom are fleeing deprivation and violence around the world.

“One of the things that I have always appreciated about our refugee resettlement program is the emphasis we place on families and, therefore, family reunification,” said Joshua Sieweke, the Atlanta office director of World Relief, which is planning to resettle more than two dozen refugees in Georgia through late July. “Different relationships have been given priority in the program. We now need clarity regarding those relationships. What relationships will be recognized? And what relationships will not be recognized?”

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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