A federal judge in Hawaii declined on Thursday to clarify who should be allowed to bypass President Trump’s recently reinstated travel ban — a small victory for the administration in the ongoing legal battle over the policy, which blocks the entry of people from six majority-Muslim nations for 90 days and suspends the refugee resettlement program for 120 days.
The Supreme Court issued an order last week that allowed the ban to go forward, but it stipulated that the policy couldn’t be applied to people who maintained “a bona fide relationship” to a person or entity in the U.S.
The ambiguity of the order left the Trump administration to interpret what “bona fide” meant in this context. In guidelines released last week, the administration concluded parents, children and spouses, among others, qualified as close family who could circumvent the ban.
Left off the list, however, were grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles and other “extended” family members. Before implementing the new criteria last Thursday, the administration appeared to waiver on the fate of fiancés, but ultimately counted them among those exempted from the policy.
The plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the travel ban — the state of Hawaii and a local imam — protested that the guidelines were too narrow, and asked Hawaii District Court Judge Derrick Watson to clarify the scope of the Supreme Court’s order.
Watson, who blocked the ban from taking effect back in March, refused to tread on the Supreme Court’s decision.
In an order issued just after 3 p.m. local time in Honolulu, he insisted the plaintiffs must turn to the high court for clarity, and declined to upset the “careful balancing” in its decision.
“Because Plaintiffs seek clarification of the June 26, 2017 injunction modifications authored by the Supreme Court, clarification should be sought there, not here,” he wrote.
Watson’s deference to the Supreme Court allows for the government to proceed with its guidelines unimpeded.
Visa seekers from the six countries — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — will be subject to the travel ban unless they can prove a “bona fide” tie to a person or entity in the U.S.
A separate provision in the travel ban reduces the cap for refugee admissions this fiscal year to 50,000, down from a proposed 110,000 under President Barack Obama.
A State Department official told POLITICO earlier this week the administration expects to hit that mark around July 12.
Refugees with “bona fide” ties to the U.S. are not subject to the new cap, but such a relationship could be hard to prove for some new arrivals.
The administration determined in its travel ban guidance that a refugee’s relationship with a resettlement agency alone did not meet the “bona fide” standard.
While Thursday’s decision represents a momentary win for Trump, the policy will still need to undergo scrutiny from the Supreme Court, which is expected to hear arguments in October.