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Donald Trump travel ban goes into effect even as Hawaii files challenge

LiveMint logoLiveMint 30-06-2017 Nick Wadhams

Washington/New York/San Francisco: The Trump administration’s revised travel ban went into effect on Thursday after months of protests and legal wrangling that continued up to the last minute with a legal challenge from the state of Hawaii.

The current version of the ban provides officials a set of new rules the administration said should help prevent the chaotic airport scenes witnessed when the order was abruptly imposed in January. New restrictions on refugees and immigrants from six predominantly Muslim countries took effect at 8pm EDT.

A half-hour before the new ban took effect, Hawaii asked a judge to clarify whether the government violated the US Supreme Court’s instructions on Monday that immigrants with strong ties to the US must be allowed into the country. The US Justice Department declined to comment.

If implemented as intended, the travel restrictions would allow President Donald Trump to declare partial victory on his campaign promise to stem the flow of refugees and travellers from nations he deems a security risk. Lower court decisions to uphold two of his proposed travel bans were early, public defeats for the administration in its initial weeks.

To minimize disruptions this time, the State Department, Homeland Security Department and Justice Department coordinated in advance to establish clearer guidelines for thousands of consular officers, airlines and travellers. And unlike in January, when hundreds of travellers arriving in the US were turned back or detained at airports, those already holding a valid visa will be let in.

‘Legitimate concerns’

“The American public could have legitimate concerns about their safety when we open our doors,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said at a briefing Thursday. “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 latest effort followed a US Supreme Court ruling this week that travellers from the six nations — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — with “bona fide” connections in the US be exempted from the travel ban. That definition was interpreted to mean that travellers with specific, close family members in the US, including spouses, children, and siblings, could be let in. But people whose closest connections are grandparents, aunts and uncles could be barred.

Students or travellers with business or professional ties from the affected countries also are exempt if they can show a relationship that’s formal and documented, and not based on an intent to evade the ban.

The Supreme Court’s decision also revived Trump’s efforts to suspend refugee admissions for 120 days and to reduce the maximum number of refugees allowed into the country to 50,000 from 110,000. The president has cited the risk of terrorists slipping into the US, while critics have said the ban discriminates against Muslims.

Speaking to reporters on background, an administration official said the US needs every available tool to keep terrorists from coming to the country.

The State Department’s official guidance, which was posted on its website, grants significant discretion to consular officers who will approve visas in US embassies and outposts around the world. For example, guidance sent to embassies says that consular officers can determine whether granting a visa to an applicant from one of the six nations would be in the US’s national interest, even if they don’t have the close familial connections normally required.

Yet many of the original criticisms of the ban remain. Administration officials wouldn’t explain why the ban targets the six countries or why refugees are deemed a threat to national security. Of 784,000 refugees resettled in the US since 2011, just three were arrested for allegedly planning terrorist activities, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

Criticism was also swift toward the government’s conclusion about what constitutes a “bona fide” family relationship — for example, its refusal to consider a fiancé or grandparent a direct relative. Officials said they were using a definition outlined in the other parts of US law.

Wedding postponed

“We came here with a dream, you know, of what America is, and we’re just pretty disappointed by everything that is happening,” said Rama Issa, the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York. Issa, a Syrian-American, said she had postponed her wedding because many family members wouldn’t be able to join. “To us, extended family is also our nuclear family,” she said.

In a letter sent 28 June to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and John Kelly, the secretary of homeland security, Refugee Council USA asked that the US give a blanket waiver to unaccompanied children even if they don’t have a “bona fide” relationship with people or entities in the US.

“This population of extraordinarily vulnerable refugee children, who have lost or been separated from their parents, often have no other options,” the group said. “As a result, they should not be left in harm’s way.”

Nongovernmental organizations and refugee advocates have struggled to determine how many people will actually be affected by the new restrictions. The US has already admitted about 49,000 refugees so far this year, just shy of the executive order’s 50,000 cap.

Air carriers affected by the measures said they’ll accept the presentation of official paperwork for entering the US as indicating that passengers already meet the new requirements. Dubai-based Emirates, which ranks as the world’s biggest long-haul airline and has flights from Iran and Sudan among the affected countries, said ahead of the ban’s implementation that its US services were operating as usual.

“All passengers must possess the appropriate travel documents, including a valid US entry visa, in order to travel,” it said. “Emirates remains guided by the US Customs and Border Protection on this matter.”

The Department of Homeland Security said it expects a smooth implementation.

“US Customs and Border Protection officers are trained and prepared to professionally process in accordance with the laws of the United States persons with valid visas who present themselves for entry,” according to a DHS statement. “We expect no disruptions to service.” Bloomberg

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