The Supreme Court did not specify which individuals or entities would qualify as close relations. However, the State Department said that they would include spouses, parents, parents-in-law, children, sons- and daughters-in-law, fiancés and siblings of those already in the United States. They would not include grandparents, grandchildren, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, cousins, and brothers- and sisters-in-law. The department said it was following guidelines laid out in immigration law.
It also decided that a resettlement agency’s relationship to those it planned to settle in the United States would not circumvent the ban.
Hawaii challenged the administration’s interpretation of what constitutes a close relationship. Judge Watson agreed that the White House contradicted the Supreme Court’s order.
“Common sense, for instance, dictates that close family members be defined to include grandparents,” he wrote. “Indeed, grandparents are the epitome of close family members. The government’s definition excludes them. That simply cannot be.”
The judge also said that a refugee’s ties to a resettlement agency met the standard set by the Supreme Court for a bona fide relationship to an entity in the United States.
“An assurance from a United States refugee resettlement agency, in fact, meets each of the Supreme Court’s touchstones,” he wrote. “It is formal, it is a documented contract, it is binding, it triggers responsibilities and obligations, including compensation, it is issued specific to an individual refugee only when that refugee has been approved for entry by the Department of Homeland Security.”
About 60 percent of all refugees admitted to the United States last year had family ties. That figure drops to about 25 percent for those from Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, among the most common sources of refugees in recent years.
Refugee organizations cheered the ruling. Mark Hetfield, president and chief executive of HIAS, a refugee and resettlement agency, called it “a sensible and humane interpretation of the plain words of the Supreme Court.”
“Now grandparents and grandchildren who are refugees can be reunited with close family in the U.S., and U.S. communities can welcome those refugees for whom they have been waiting,” he said.
A State Department official said on Friday that the department was reviewing the decision and would consult with the Justice Department about putting the new rules into effect.
Under his executive order, Mr. Trump capped the number of refugee admissions in the fiscal year ending on Sept. 30 at 50,000, down from 110,000 allowed by President Barack Obama. But the Supreme Court said that refugees with bona fide relationships in the United States should be admitted even if the government reached the 50,000 cap, which it did this past week.
The Fourth and Ninth Circuit appellate courts upheld challenges to the ban. The Supreme Court then agreed last month to allow a partial ban to proceed until it hears arguments in the fall about whether the president’s executive order unconstitutionally discriminates against Muslims.