The Trump administration began enforcing key parts of its revised travel ban Thursday night in Georgia and across the nation, predicting things would run more smoothly than they did in January when their first attempt caused chaos and confusion at U.S. airports across the country.
“Our people are well-prepared for this,” a senior administration official told reporters in a conference call Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity. “And they will handle the entry of people with visas professionally, respectfully and responsibly, as they have always done, with an eye toward ensuring the country is protected from persons looking to travel here to do harm.”
But civil and immigrant rights groups in Atlanta and elsewhere began objecting to the administration’s plans even before they started carrying them out, calling them discriminatory and wrongheaded.
With some important exceptions, the government is now blocking travelers from six Muslim-majority countries — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — for 90 days, suspending the nation’s refugee resettlement program for 120 days and limiting the number of refugees who may be brought here this fiscal year to 50,000. The Supreme Court said in its ruling Monday reinstating the partial ban that those restrictions cannot be applied to people with a “bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”
Such people must have a “close familial relationship,” meaning a parent — including a parent-in-law — spouse, child, adult son or adult daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law or sibling. This includes step relationships. Not included are grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, fiancés and any other “extended family members,” according to a U.S. State Department cable obtained by Reuters.
But many immigrants and refugees who come to the U.S. consider cousins like brothers, and uncles, aunts and grandparents are cherished as close family members, said Omar Shekhey, the executive director for the Somali American Community Center in Clarkston.
“We are now in new territory,” he said. “This is a tragic moment in our history.”
A variety of relatives play key roles in special events for immigrants and refugees as well, such as marriages and childbirths, said Glory Kilanko, the director and CEO of Women Watch Afrika, a local immigrant support group.
“During marriages,” she said, “it is very important and required that grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-in-law-to-be, sisters-in-law-to-be be at the wedding for the official cultural introduction of both families, and to give the bride and groom marriage blessings. A traditional meeting of both families with elders of both sides is the most powerful aspect of the marriage.”
Other senior administration officials told reporters they based the family guidelines on the court’s ruling and federal immigration law. They added the travel restrictions will give the government time to bolster its security screening process for newcomers and to prevent terrorist attacks in the U.S.
“The American public could have legitimate concerns about their safety when we open our doors,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters Thursday in Washington. “And we want to open our doors to people who are willing to go through proper screening measures and who want to be here and want to be productive members of our society.”
The travel ban exemptions will also apply to people with a relationship to an entity in the U.S. that is “formal, documented and formed in the ordinary course, rather than for the purpose of evading” the travel ban, according to the State Department cable. Some examples: foreign journalists with newsrooms in the U.S., foreign students who have been admitted to schools here and workers who have been offered jobs at American companies. Formal assurances given by refugee resettlement agencies would not be sufficient in and of themselves to establish bona fide relationships under the court ruling, officials told reporters Thursday.
Emory University announced this week that people from the six countries identified in the executive order “should not be subject to the travel ban if they are under Emory’s immigration sponsorship as documented by their immigration paperwork.”
“We will continue to closely monitor immigration-related developments and work with our professional associations and colleagues to advocate for favorable immigration policies that benefit everyone,” the university said in a statement after the court’s decision.
The executive order allows consular officers to grant waivers to travelers on a case-by-case basis under certain conditions, including when they are determined to not pose national security threats. Among those who could be exempted are people seeking to enter the U.S. for “significant business or professional obligations”; infants, young children, adoptees and people needing urgent medical care; and travelers seeking to meet or do business with the U.S. government.
Visas issued before the travel ban’s implementation will be honored, and previously scheduled visa appointments will not be canceled, officials said. Further, refugees will be permitted to come here if they’ve been booked to travel through July 6. So far this fiscal year, about 49,000 refugees have resettled in the U.S. The government could not immediately say how many would be turned away under the travel ban. But they said more than half who come here typically have a family tie already in the U.S.
“We’re going to have to go through the exemptions that are listed related to close family relationships and relationships with entities,” a senior administration official said. “So I’m afraid we can’t give you a precise number. But I do want to say that under the court’s ruling there will be additional refugee arrivals based on those relationships following July 6th.”
Staff writer Kelly Yamanouchi contributed to this article.