A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled on September 7, 2017, that certain relatives from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen banned by the Trump administration from entering the United States should be admitted while the ban is under legal review, contrary to the administration’s interpretation of a June Supreme Court ruling. However, on September 12, the Supreme Court blocked part of the Ninth Circuit’s ruling from taking effect.

The administration had interpreted the Supreme Court’s June reference to close or bona fide family relationships as including immediate family members and in-laws but excluding grandparents, grandchildren, brothers- and sisters-in-law, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, and cousins. The Ninth Circuit panel observed, “Stated simply, the Government does not offer a persuasive explanation for why a mother-in-law is clearly a bona fide relationship, in the Supreme Court’s prior reasoning, but a grandparent, grandchild, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, or cousin is not.” Noting that the administration had relied on specified provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the court noted, “The Government’s ‘cherry-picked’ INA provisions recognize immediate family relationships as those between parents, spouses, children, and siblings, yet other provisions of the INA and other immigration laws offer broader definitions for close family.” The court also said that the INA was implemented with the underlying intention of preservation of the family unit, and noted that the administration’s “artificially narrow interpretation of close familial relationships directly contradicts this intention.”

The Ninth Circuit panel also rejected the Trump administration’s ban on refugees formally accepted by resettlement agencies. The court noted that it typically takes a refugee applicant 18 to 24 months to successfully complete the complex, lengthy application and screening process before he or she can be resettled in the United States. The court cited various hardships that would be faced by resettlement agencies, local affiliates, church congregations, volunteers, and landlords if formally assured refugees were barred. The court also noted that refugees’ lives “remain in vulnerable limbo during the pendency of the Supreme Court’s stay. Refugees have only a narrow window of time to complete their travel, as certain security and medical checks expire and must then be re-initiated. Even short delays may prolong a refugee’s admittance.”

The Ninth Circuit’s order was set to take effect on September 12. However, on that date, the Supreme Court indefinitely blocked part of the Ninth Circuit’s ruling. For now, the Trump administration’s travel ban remains in effect with respect to refugees who have formal assurances from resettlement agencies. The Supreme Court will hear arguments on October 10, 2017, in a consolidated case challenging the travel ban.

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