By Kartikay Mehrotra, Bloomberg News
A federal judge in Hawaii ruled that the Trump administration didn’t conform with the Supreme Court’s instructions in rolling out its temporary travel ban.
The decision means many people covered by the government’s restrictions would be allowed to enter the U.S. In an order late Thursday, U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson in Honolulu said the government shouldn’t limit entry for visa applicants from six mostly Muslim nations and refugees worldwide to only those with members of their nuclear family already living in the U.S.
The Justice Department hasn’t said whether it will appeal.
Watson has already stopped two previous versions of the president’s executive order from being enforced. This time, he was reviewing the version issued after the Supreme Court said only people with “bona fide” ties to people and entities could come in. He found the State Department’s definition was too limited, and ordered the government to both expand who qualifies as family and include refugees who have secured the support of a U.S. group. The ruling is a victory for opponents of the administration’s immigration agenda.
The Justice Department defended its definition of “close family ties,” telling the judge it had followed the Supreme Court’s June 26 filing and that excluding grandparents, aunts, uncles and others was consistent with the Immigration and Nationality Act. The government urged Watson to defer to the Supreme Court.
“In sum, the government’s definition of ‘close familial relationship’ is not only not compelled by the Supreme Court’s June 26 decision, but contradicts it,” Watson stated in his written order. “Equally problematic, the government’s definition represents the antithesis of common sense. Common sense, for instance, dictates that close family members be defined to include grandparents.”
The order directs Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to modify enforcement nationwide. Justice Department spokeswoman Nicole Navas said a statement is likely to be issued later Friday.
Hawaii Attorney General Douglas Chin, a Democrat who filed the case, said he would continue to prepare for a hearing before the Supreme Court.
“The federal court today makes clear that the U.S.
government may not ignore the scope of the partial travel ban as it sees fit,” Chin said in an emailed statement. “Family members have been separated and real people have suffered enough. Courts have found that this executive order has no basis in stopping terrorism and is just a pretext for illegal and unconstitutional discrimination.”
The Supreme Court said it will hear the administration’s appeal of lower-court orders blocking the ban from taking effect in its next session, which starts in October. Meanwhile, the court allowed the restrictions to take effect, with caveats, five months after the initial lawsuits challenging the president’s original order.
Because of the temporary nature of the 90-day ban, it isn’t clear exactly what will be left for the justices to decide in October. One possibility is that Trump could issue a new executive order once officials complete their review of vetting procedures for immigrants.
When the nine-member Supreme Court partially revived the travel ban on June 26, Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch said they would have let the entire ban take effect immediately. Thomas warned that the definition of bona fide relationships would open the door to a “flood of litigation” as U.S. customs and border officials wrestle with whether travelers from the six countries have sufficient ties.
The case is State of Hawaii v. Trump, 17-cv-00050, U.S. District Court, District of Hawaii (Honolulu).
–With assistance from Andrew Harris.