The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday reinstated key parts of President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban — with some important exceptions — while agreeing to hear constitutional challenges to his executive order.
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.”
The court’s decision comes with significant implications for Georgia, a popular destination for tourists and immigrants and home to the world’s busiest airport as well as many schools and businesses with international connections. Each year, several thousand refugees from across the globe are resettled in Georgia. Nearly one-tenth of the state’s population is foreign-born.
Announced in January, Trump’s original travel ban sowed massive chaos and confusion at airports across the nation, prompted widespread demonstrations and sparked federal lawsuits. In Atlanta, as many as 11 travelers — some had been visiting relatives in Iran — were detained for hours after they arrived at the airport that month.
Worried about a repeat of such trouble, advocates were scrambling Monday to recruit volunteer immigrant attorneys and others who could man shifts at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport this week, in case more travelers encounter problems.
In its ruling, the court gave some examples of visitors and refugees who would be exempted 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.
“As to these individuals and entities, we do not disturb the injunction,” the court said in its ruling. “But when it comes to refugees who lack any such connection to the United States, for the reasons we have set out, the balance tips in favor of the government’s compelling need to provide for the nation’s security.”
Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch issued a separate opinion, partly dissenting with the court. They said they would have allowed the government to fully proceed with its travel ban. They also raised concerns the court’s exceptions could trigger more legal challenges.
“I fear that the court’s remedy will prove unworkable,” Thomas, a Georgia native, 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.”
Thomas added: “The compromise also will invite a flood of litigation until this case is finally resolved on the merits, as parties and courts struggle to determine what exactly constitutes a ‘bona fide relationship,’ who precisely has a ‘credible claim’ to that relationship, and whether the claimed relationship was formed ‘simply to avoid’ ” the travel ban.
The Trump administration did not immediately say when it would begin enforcing the reinstated parts of the travel ban. Meanwhile, the court directed the parties in the legal case to address whether the provision temporarily suspending travel from the six countries expired on June 14.
Also on Monday, federal immigration authorities could not immediately say how they would implement the executive order. Instead, the U.S. Homeland Security Department issued a brief statement, saying it would provide details after consulting with other federal agencies.
“The implementation of the executive order will be done professionally, with clear and sufficient public notice, particularly to potentially affected travelers, and in coordination with partners in the travel industry,” the Homeland Security Department said in a prepared statement.
Perry Flint, a spokesman for the global airline trade group the International Air Transport Association, issued a statement Monday saying “it is absolutely imperative that airlines receive clear and concise information, as well as sufficient time, to enable them to comply with those portions of the executive order for which the injunction was stayed.”
On Monday, the Southern Poverty Law Center started publicizing a phone number — 1-800-591-3656 — for travelers who encounter any problems with the reinstated travel ban. The advocacy group is also helping schedule volunteers to be on the lookout for any trouble at Atlanta’s airport.
“Who knows what the court’s order means in real life,” said Naomi Tsu, the SPLC’s deputy legal director. “Who has a bona fide relationship? The court gave a few examples. But will a Customs and Border Protection officer decide that those are bona fide? Is it enough that you are coming to visit a cousin once removed? Or do you need it to be a primary part of your nuclear family? There are just so many questions that are left to the discretion of individual officers.”
Trump has said his travel ban is aimed at giving his administration time to bolster its vetting process for visitors and to protect the United States from terrorist attacks. In March, he signed a revised executive order, seeking to temporarily bar travelers from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
On Monday, the president praised the court’s decision to reinstate parts of his executive order, calling it “a clear victory for our national security. It allows the travel suspension for the six terror-prone countries and the refugee suspension to become largely effective.
“As president,” he continued, “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.”
J.D. Van Brink of Acworth, the chairman of Georgia Tea Party Inc., also welcomed the court’s decision to hear the case.
“The practical justification is that we need to be able to vet people who are trying to come into our country,” he said. “And once you settle the constitutional issue of who gets to decide, I believe — constitutionally — it is obviously the executive branch.”
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 Trump administration denies. Critics also say the executive order will hurt universities, which recruit students and faculty from abroad, and tourism.
On June 12, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld a lower court’s injunction against parts of the travel ban. And last month, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., refused to reinstate the travel ban, saying: “It drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination.”
Refugee advocates bemoaned the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling Monday. At the end of last year, there were 65.6 million people who had been displaced from their homes by conflict and persecution worldwide, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. Syria’s 6-year-old civil war, for example, has killed hundreds of thousands of people and uprooted millions of others.
In the past 10 years, Georgia has welcomed 27,897 refugees from across the world, federal records show. About 4,450 came from four countries covered by the travel ban: Iran, Somalia, Sudan and Syria.
Paedia Mixon, the CEO of New American Pathways, an Atlanta-area refugee resettlement organization, said she was disappointed in the court’s decision.
“During the worst refugee crisis in history,” she said, “this action hinders organizations like New American Pathways from being able to deliver refugee families seeking safety and stability out of harm’s way.”
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Staff writer Kelly Yamanouchi contributed to this article.