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Grandparents aren’t “bona fide” relatives under latest travel ban

The Trump administration has decided how to define the word “relationship” after the Supreme Court ruled that the president’s travel ban can apply to everyone except people who can prove “a bona fide relationship” with a person or entity in the United States.

Enforcement of the ban is set to begin Thursday at 8 p.m. ET, according to a State Department cable sent to U.S. embassies and consulates around the world. The cable was first obtained by the Associated Press and later published in full by Reuters.


When the ban initially took effect in January — before it was blocked by federal courts, revised by Trump, then blocked again — it caused chaos at airports around the country, since it was unclear exactly who would be allowed to enter. The new guidelines aim to reduce the confusion this time around, but there’s still plenty of uncertainty and room for interpretation. Here’s what we know:

Who will be allowed to enter the U.S.?

  • Anybody who already has a valid visa should be fine, including travelers from the six countries named in the ban: Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iran, and Yemen.
  • The ban also freezes resettlement of all refugees regardless of their country of origin, but again, refugees who already have a valid visa should be allowed in.
  • It starts to get tricky for people from the six banned countries and refugees who don’t already have a visa. Under the Trump administration’s official guidelines — crafted by senior officials from the Departments of State, Justice, and Homeland Security — new visa applicants must prove a relationship with a parent, spouse, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, or sibling already in the U.S.
  • For business exemptions, new visa applicants from the six countries must prove a legitimate relationship that is “formal, documented and formed in the ordinary course rather than for the purpose of evading.” Workers who have accepted job offers, lecturers with formal speaking invitations, students, and journalists are also exempt.
  • The guidelines also include a list of exemptions that can be granted at the discretion of a consular officer. These cover infants, adopted children, people in need of “urgent medical care,” and people who have “previously established significant contacts” with the U.S.” It’s still unclear how the administration defines “significant contacts.”


Who is banned?

  • The administration’s interpretation of “relationship” is narrow. Under the guidelines, grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, fiancees, and other extended family members are not considered close relations. New visa applications for refugees and people from the six banned countries that list only those relatives will be denied.
  • For business travelers, the guidelines specifically state that people who only have a prepaid hotel reservation, car rental, or other similar types of reservations will be turned away.
  • Refugees who are partway through the resettlement process — including people who have undergone security screenings and background checks — but don’t yet have a visa will not be allowed to enter.

What happens next?

The ban will stay in place until the Supreme Court issues a ruling after hearing arguments in October.

Customs and Border Protection agents — the officers in blue uniforms who stamp passports and inspect travel documents at airports and border crossings — will be the ones making on-the-ground decisions about who gets an exemption and who doesn’t.

In a dissent to the Supreme Court’s decision to partially lift the ban, Justice Clarence Thomas warned that there will likely be “a flood of litigation” as immigration advocates and civil liberties groups challenge the administration’s interpretation of “bona fide relationship.”

Refugee resettlement agencies are worried. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, one of the nine agencies that works closely with the government to find homes for arriving refugees, issued a statement that said they are “deeply concerned about the welfare of the many other vulnerable populations who will now not be allowed to arrive… most notably certain individuals fleeing religious persecution and unaccompanied refugee children.”