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Edited By: Musa Ahmed

Desk Editor (English)

Travel ban on six Muslim countries takes effect

30 Jun, 2017 19:12:00

The three months ban on visitors from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen will allow exceptions for people with "close family relationships" in the United States, which the government has defined in narrow space, excluding grandparents and grandchildren, aunts and uncles and others.

A scaled-back version of President Donald Trump’s travel ban took effect Thursday evening, stripped of provisions that brought protests and chaos at airports worldwide in January yet still likely to generate a new round of court fights. The new rules, the product of months of valid wrangling, aren’t so much an outright ban as a tightening of already-tough visa policies affecting citizens from six Muslim-majority countries. Refugees are covered, too.

Administration officials took oath that implementation this time, which began at 8 p.m. EDT (0000 GMT), would be orderly. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Dan Hetlage said his agency expected “business as usual at our ports of entry,” with all legal visa holders still being able to travel. Still, immigration and refugee advocates are promising of challenge for the new requirements and the administration has struggled to explain how they will make the United States safer.

Under the temporary rules, citizens of Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iran and Yemen who already have visas will be allowed into the United States. But people from those countries who want new visas will now have to prove a close family relationship or an existing relationship with an entity like a school or business in the U.S.

It’s unclear how significantly the new rules will affect travel. In most of the countries singled out, few people have the means for leisure travel. Those that do already face intensive screenings before being issued visas. Nevertheless, human rights groups on Thursday girded for new legal battles. The American Civil Liberties Union, one of the groups challenging the ban, called the new criteria “extremely restrictive,” “arbitrary” in their exclusions and designed to “disparage and condemn Muslims.”

The state of Hawaii filed an emergency motion Thursday asking a federal judge to clarify that the administration cannot enforce the ban against relatives such as grandparents, aunts or uncles not included in the State Department’s definition of “bona fide” personal relationships.

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer met with customs officials and said he felt things would go smoothly. “For tonight, I’m anticipating few issues because, I think, there’s better preparation,” he told reporters at Los Angeles International Airport on Thursday night. “The federal government here, I think, has taken steps to avoid the havoc that occurred the last time.”

Much of the confusion in January, when Trump’s first ban took effect, resulted from travelers with previously approved visas being kept off flights or barred entry on arrival in the United States. Immigration officials were instructed Thursday not to block anyone with valid travel documents and otherwise eligible to visit the United States. Karen Tumlin, legal director of the National Immigration Law Center, said the rules “would slam the door shut on so many who have waited for months or years to be reunited with their families.

Trump, who made a tough approach to immigration a cornerstone of his election campaign, issued a ban on travelers from the six countries, plus Iraq, shortly after taking office in January. His order also blocked refugees from any country. Trump said these were temporary measures needed to prevent terrorism until vetting procedures could be reviewed. Opponents noted that visa and refugee vetting were already strict and said there was no evidence that refugees or citizens of those six countries posed a threat. They saw the ban as part of Trump’s campaign promise to bar Muslims from entering the United States.

Lower courts blocked the initial ban and a second, revised Trump order intended to overcome legal hurdles. The Supreme Court on Monday partially reinstated the revised ban but exempted travelers who could prove a “bona fide relationship” with a U.S. person or entity. The court offered only broad guidelines.

In guidance issued late Wednesday, the State Department said the personal relationships would include a parent, spouse, son, daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law or sibling already in the United States. It does not include other relationships such as grandparents, grandchildren, aunts and uncles. On Thursday, the State and Homeland Security departments had both expanded the range of bona fide relationships to include fiancés.

Business or professional links must be “formal, documented and formed in the ordinary course rather than for the purpose of evading” the ban. Journalists, students, workers or lecturers who have valid invitations or employment contracts in the U.S. would be exempt from the ban. The exemption does not apply to those who seek a relationship with an American business or educational institution purely for the purpose of avoiding the rules.

She is Syrian-American and had planned to get married this fall. While her father in Syria may be able to get a visa, her aunts and uncles may well be blocked. “I would love for them to be at this wedding, and unfortunately, they aren’t going to be able to be here,” she said, adding that the ceremony would be postponed.

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