Decision on travel ban spares family members, students and workers

Somali refugees in KenyaWith a population of 350,000, Dadaab is the world's largest refugee complex. Some Somalis have lived here since 1991 and still depend on humanitarian aid for their daily needs. EU ECHO photo/Flickr

BOSTON, June 26, 2017 – The U.S. Supreme Court today agreed to examine whether President Trump’s travel ban was a legitimate exercise of executive power, and in the meantime, stayed two injunctions that had blocked the implementation of the travel ban.

In a careful attempt to balance competing interests, the Court only allowed the travel ban to be applied to foreign nationals who lack “any bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”

For individuals, the Court ruled, a “close familial relationship” is required. For entities, the relationship must be “formal, documented, and formed in the ordinary course,” such as a student’s admission to a U.S. university, an offer of employment, or an invitation to give a lecture.

All other citizens of the six designated countries – Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen – may be barred from entering the U.S. for 90 days. The Court also upheld a 120-day suspension of the U.S. refugee resettlement program, and a reduction of the annual cap from 110,000, as former President Obama had planned, to 50,000. In fiscal 2016, the U.S. admitted 85,000 refugees.

“We are deeply disappointed by today’s Supreme Court decision, which – if only temporarily – upholds a policy grounded in xenophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment,” said Eva A. Millona, executive director of MIRA. “The administration has claimed the travel ban is meant to protect national security, but they have yet to produce a single shred of evidence to justify that claim. More than 3 million refugees have been resettled in the United States since 1975, with no incidents.”

Still, Millona said she appreciates the Court’s effort to limit the scope of the travel ban.

“Exempting students, visiting lecturers, and workers with job offers in the United States will go a long way to reducing the impact on Massachusetts, especially in higher education, technology and life sciences,” she said. “That is an important acknowledgement of the value of immigrants and refugees to those sectors, which are central to our Commonwealth’s economy.”

Syrian refugees in TurkeySyrian refugees at a camp in Turkey. The country now hosts over 2.5 million refugees. © European Union 2016 – European Parliament/Flickr

The exception for people with close relatives in the U.S. is also crucial, Millona added. “Some families have been waiting for years to be reunited, and it would be cruel and deeply unfair to extend their separation,” she said.

Yet another important provision of today’s Supreme Court ruling is that it provides for any refugee who meets the “bona fide relationship” standards to be admitted to the United States even if the 50,000 annual cap has already been met.

However, Millona noted that requiring travelers and refugees to prove their relationship with a person or entity in the U.S. will add yet another layer to what is already a slow and complex bureaucracy.

“Even travelers with U.S. passports have been facing increased scrutiny and delays under the Trump administration,” she said. “We would not be surprised if in the coming weeks, people who meet the standards set by the Supreme Court still find it difficult to enter the country.”

The Supreme Court plans to hear the travel ban case in October. Until then, MIRA will continue to campaign against the policy, and will urge citizens to express their opposition – by calling and writing to the Trump administration, and by lobbying their elected officials.

In 2016, Massachusetts resettled a total of 2,433 refugees, state figures show, including 232 from Somalia, 209 from Syria, 26 from Iran, 22 from Sudan, 4 from Yemen, and 1 from Libya. 

– Marion Davis