President Trump’s travel ban suffered another legal setback Thursday after an appeals court ruled that the government’s restrictions were too tight, and ordered that many more people have to be admitted from majority-Muslim countries.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that extended family members including nieces, nephews and cousins of people already in the U.S. are considered “close” enough that they have to be exempted from the travel ban.
And the court ruled that any refugees who are working with non-profit resettlement agencies in the U.S. also have close enough ties, and must be admitted.
That covers a universe of about 24,000 refugees.
“Denying entry to these foreign nationals would burden persons in the United States,” the appeals court ruled, upholding a lower court judgment.
The ruling allows the looser rules for families to remain in effect, and reinstates permission for refugees to come to the U.S. if they’ve already been assigned to a resettlement agency. The Supreme Court had previously blocked that part of the lower court’s ruling.
The three judges — all Clinton appointees to the bench — are the same panel that earlier blocked the entire travel ban, only to see that decision upended by the Supreme Court.
In a 9-0 ruling in June, the justices said Mr. Trump did have the power to restrict entry based on his national security concerns. But the justices said the president’s powers were limited in cases where the travelers had a family relationship with U.S. persons, or ties to entities here.
The Supreme Court didn’t define what constituted “a close familial relationship,” sparking a new round of lawsuits.
Administration officials said they relied on previous court decisions and U.S. law to define close relationships as spouses, children, siblings and fiances.
Anti-Trump activists, though, said the line should be drawn much more broadly.
The 9th Circuit agreed, saying grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in- law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins must all be considered close enough relationships to qualify.
The appellate judges said the court only meant to exclude those with “remote” family ties.
When the Supreme Court ruled in June, Justice Clarence Thomas had warned that the court’s vague language would spark just this kind of legal fight — and that the battle would play out in the very courts that were overruled by the Supreme Court decision.
“I fear that the Court’s remedy will prove unworkable,” he predicted.
Mr. Trump’s original travel ban called for halting admissions to the U.S. of visitors and immigrants from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syrian and Yemen. The president also called for a total halt on refugee admissions.
Courts, including the 9th Circuit, blocked that policy, and Mr. Trump returned with a new version designed to accommodate the 9th Circuit’s objections, dropping the ban on Iraqis and carving out waivers to allow immigrants or visitors with deep ties to the U.S. to enter.
The judges, though, rejected it as still too strict.
Both the refugee and country bans were meant to be temporary, to give the government a chance to improve its vetting procedures.
The 90-day country ban is slated to expire later in September, or just weeks before the Supreme Court is expected to take up the case once again.
The refugee ban was slated to last 120 days, with a more permanent ban on refugees from Syria, where the U.S. says it struggles to vet identities.
Thursday’s court ruling, though, means that any refugee whose case has already been assigned to a resettlement agency qualifies for an exemption. The 9th Circuit ruled that assignment constitutes a “bona fide relationship” under the Supreme Court’s order.
Activists cheered the loosening of the rules, and said the court’s decision was another slap at Mr. Trump.
“The government has repeatedly been told by the courts that its actions are improper, but it keeps trying,” said Omar Jadwat, director of the immigrant rights project at the American Civil Liberties Union. “It’s obvious that prejudice and anti-immigrant cruelty are among this administration’s highest priorities and that it is willing to trample on the law and Constitution to achieve them.”