The Trump administration on Wednesday set new criteria for visa applicants traveling to the U.S. from six mainly Muslim nations and all refugees that require a “close” family or business tie to this country.
According to the new criteria, visas that have already been approved will not be revoked, but instructions issued by the State Department say that new applicants from Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iran and Yemen must prove a relationship with a parent, spouse, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law or sibling already in the United States to be eligible.
The same requirement, with some exceptions, holds for would-be refugees from all nations that are still awaiting approval for admission to the U.S., the Associated Press reported Wednesday.
Grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-laws and sisters-in-law, fiancees or other extended family members are not considered to be close relatives, according to the guidelines that were issued in a cable sent to all U.S. embassies and consulates late Wednesday.
The new rules take effect today, according to the cable.
The news come as Atlanta-area advocates have been calling for clarity. Others have filed Freedom of Information Act requests, demanding information about how the directive will be implemented. Some filed papers Wednesday in a federal court in Washington, seeking to stop key parts of the executive order.
The travel ban’s new criteria could carry significant consequences for Georgia, a rapidly diversifying state with the world’s busiest airport. Nearly one-tenth of Georgia’s population is foreign-born, and several thousand refugees from around the world are resettled in the state each year.
“In the midst of incredibly important operational questions, we continue to remain extremely concerned about the human impact — families at risk of being ripped apart,” said J.D. McCrary, the executive director of the Atlanta International Rescue Committee, a refugee resettlement agency.
As far as business or professional links are concerned, the State Department said a legitimate relationship must be “formal, documented and formed in the ordinary course rather than for the purpose of evading” the ban. Journalists, students, workers or lecturers who have valid invitations or employment contracts in the U.S. would be exempt from the ban. The exemption does not apply to those who seek a relationship with an American business or educational institution purely for the purpose of avoiding the rules, the cable said.
In its 13-page ruling, the Supreme Court partially granted the Trump administration’s request to lift preliminary injunctions against the directive and let it block visitors from the 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.
The court said those restrictions cannot be applied to people with a “bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States,” but the court offered only broad guidelines as to how that should be defined, suggesting they would include a relative, job offer or invitation to lecture in the U.S.
Senior officials from the departments of State, Justice and Homeland Security had labored since the decision to clarify the ruling and Wednesday’s instructions were the result.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the government has already resettled about 49,000 refugees in the U.S. this fiscal year and that the 50,000 cap cited in President Donald Trump’s executive order should be reached “within the next week or so.”
She said that refugees with bona fide ties will not be subject to that cap.
In a separate opinion they issued Monday, Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch raised concerns that the court’s exceptions for people with bona fide relationships in the U.S. 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.”
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 government has denied. Trump has said his travel ban is aimed at preventing terrorist attacks in the U.S.
On Wednesday, a coalition of Iranian-American advocacy groups filed papers in a federal court in Washington, asking a judge to block key parts of the travel ban from going into effect.
“The public has a strong interest in avoiding the sort of chaos seen at airports when the first executive order went into effect,” their court filing says, “and in permitting refugee applicants who have been fully vetted to enter the United States — in accordance with our obligations under international law and the highest ideals upon which our country was founded.”
The Justice Department declined to comment.
Meanwhile, several groups had been pressing the government for information about how it will enforce the travel ban. In a statement released Wednesday, the Southern Poverty Law Center and several other advocacy organizations said the Trump administration should “provide guidance to protect the rights of immigrants and travelers to the United States, and to limit the inevitable confusion and chaos that will arise out of implementation” of the executive order.
At the same time, Atlanta-area refugee resettlement agencies are racing to determine how the travel ban could affect their clients, many of whom are fleeing deprivation and violence around the world.
“One of the things that I have always appreciated about our refugee resettlement program is the emphasis we place on families and, therefore, family reunification,” said Joshua Sieweke, the Atlanta office director of World Relief, which is planning to resettle more than two dozen refugees in Georgia through late July. “Different relationships have been given priority in the program. We now need clarity regarding those relationships. What relationships will be recognized? And what relationships will not be recognized?”
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