July 4, 2017 / 2:54 AM / 2 months ago

Trump administration defends interpretation of travel ban ruling

U.S. Customs and Immigration officers keep watch at the arrivals level at Los Angeles International Airport as the Supreme Court reinstates portions of President Donald Trump's executive order targeting travelers from six predominantly Muslim countries, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., June 29, 2017.Mike Blake

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump opposed opening the door to grandparents from six Muslim-majority countries on Monday, arguing in a court filing that the government's interpretation of how to implement its temporary travel ban is based on U.S. immigration law.

The U.S. Supreme Court in a ruling last Monday revived parts of Trump's March 6 executive order that banned people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days, which had been blocked by lower courts. The highest court let the ban go forward with a limited scope, saying that it cannot apply to anyone with credible "bona fide relationship" with a U.S. person or entity.

Trump said the measure was necessary to prevent terrorist attacks. But opponents, including states and refugee advocacy groups, sued to stop it, disputing its security rationale and saying it discriminates against Muslims.

After the Supreme Court ruling, the government said that a "bona fide relationship" means close family members only: parents, spouses, siblings and children. Grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins from the six countries would still be banned.

The government's definition, "hews closely to the categorical determinations articulated by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act," Department of Justice lawyers argued in court papers on Monday.

The government's filing came after the State of Hawaii last week went to U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson in Honolulu, who originally ruled to block the ban, to seek clarification of the Supreme Court's ruling, arguing the government's definition of "bona fide relationship" was too narrow.

The government said Hawaii, and refugee organizations that filed a "friend of the court" brief in support of the state, were seeking to apply "broader, free-hand rules."

The refugee organizations had argued that their work to resettle refugees, a process that can take years of work in coordination with the U.S. government, qualifies as a "bona fide" relationship with a U.S. entity. Any refugees with such a relationship should be exempt from the three-month ban on refugees included in the executive order, according to the Supreme Court ruling.

But the government said workers with offers of employment with a U.S. company and international students are fundamentally different than refugees receiving help from U.S. resettlement agencies.

"A refugee's relationship with the agency flows from the government, not from an independent relationship between the refugee and the resettlement agency," the government said in its brief. "Indeed, resettlement agencies typically do not have any direct contact with the refugees they assure before their arrival in the United States."

Using the organization's interpretation would make the refugee provisions in the executive order "largely meaningless," the government said.

U.S. refugee resettlement is continuing as normal until July 6, the State Department has said, around when the 50,000 cap for the fiscal year set by Trump's executive order is likely to be reached.

Late on Thursday, before the ban went into effect, the government reversed its position on fiancés, saying they could also qualify for exceptions. The court filing described a 72-hour scramble to "coordinate among multiple government agencies, and issue detailed guidance" on how to implement the Supreme Court's ruling.

The roll out of the narrowed version of the ban was more subdued on Friday compared to in January when Trump first signed a more expansive version of the order, sparking protests and chaos at airports around the country and the world.

Reporting by Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Mary Milliken

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