Supreme Court allows broader family exemptions on travel ban

By Allen Cone  |  July 19, 2017 at 3:07 PM
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July 19 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a federal judge's order that expanded the qualified family members from six Muslim-majority countries allowed to enter the United States.

The justices, in a three-sentence, 6-3 decision, affirmed U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson's decision that the government must accept people with grandparents, cousins and other relatives in the United States. The U.S. State Department issued details of the ban, which took effect on June 29, after the Supreme Court three days earlier allowed President Donald Trump's revised executive order with certain limitations for travelers from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days.

The justices blocked Watson's ruling that expanded the number of international refugees allowed to enter under a 120-day ban. It sent the matter to a federal appeals court for resolution.

Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch said they would have blocked Watson's ruling from taking effect for immigrants and refugees.

The justices said in June they would decide the overall legality of the ban this fall. The court ruled that travelers from the six targeted countries can bypass the travel ban and enter the U.S. if they can prove they have a "bona fide" relationship with a U.S. person or entity.

The Trump administration defined that as immediate relatives -- including spouses, children, parents, fiancés and fiancées. Watson, who sits in Hawaii, ordered Thursday the list to be expanded to include grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, cousins and in-laws.

"The government's definition represents the antithesis of common sense," Watson wrote in his ruling. "Common sense, for instance, dictates that close family members be defined to include grandparents."

Earlier this month, Watson declined to expand the list of family relationships exempted from the ban but the 9th Circuit said the judge had the authority to interpret the Supreme Court's order and block any violation of it.

The administration also ruled that only refugees personally matched with a resettlement agency in the U.S. could enter. Watson ordered officials to allow more refugees, but the high court disagreed.

The Justice Department appealed the district judge's order to the Supreme Court rather than the appeals court.

In March, Watson issued a restraining order that blocked Trump's executive order, which was a revision from January.

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