More than five months after President Trump signed his original travel ban, the revised version — signed March 6 — finally went into effect — in part — at 8 p.m. ET Thursday, June 29.
Even as it went into effect, however, there was confusion over whether travelers with a fiancé in US were covered or exempted from the ban (they are exempted, it turns out) — and parties were already back in court to limit the reach of the ban.
The first information about the timing and specifics of the implementation — set into motion by a Monday Supreme Court order — was contained in a cable sent by the State Department to all US embassies and consulates on Wednesday evening. It was confirmed to reporters, in a background briefing by senior administration officials a little after noon on Thursday, that it would be going into effect at that time.
At 6:01 p.m. ET Thursday, reporters were emailed a news release that contained a link to a Department of Homeland Security Frequently Asked Questions website about the new travel and refugee bans. This was the first on-the-record notice from the administration of the 8 p.m. implementation. The State Department posted a similar page as well.
Shortly thereafter, Hawaii — behind one of the two key lawsuits challenging Trump's March 6 executive order — went back to court seeking to challenge some of the new implementation plans. The judge in the case later called for more briefing on Hawaii's request, likely putting off any ruling on the request until at least July 6.
The existence of the State Department cable, originally reported by the Associated Press, was confirmed generally in the background briefing call, but the text was not specifically confirmed. Reuters published the text of the cable on Thursday morning.
The travel ban — a 90-day halt on some travel from six Muslim-majority nations — has been substantially downsized from its original iteration, and even the text of the March 6 order.
Although the original January ban effectively halted all travel from seven nations — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — the second ban removed Iraq from the list and also clarified that lawful permanent residents of the United States would not be included in the ban.
In addition to lawful permanent residents — the inclusion of which had caused significant problems for the original travel ban — the State Department cable laid out the wide swath of people who will be exempted from the executive order. "The suspension of entry in the E.O. does not apply to individuals who are inside the United States on June 29, 2017, who have a valid visa on June 29, 2017, or who had a valid visa at 8:00 p.m. EDT January 29, 2017, even after their visas expire or they leave the United States," the State Department cable states. Additionally, the order doesn't apply to those granted asylum in the US, and "any refugee who has already been admitted to the United States."
On Monday, the US Supreme Court limited the ban even further, keeping in place injunctions that prevent the government from enforcing the ban against people with "a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States."
The State Department cable lays out the way the administration has decided to interpret that language: "Any such relationship with a 'person' must be a close familial relationship, as defined below. Any relationship with an entity must be formal, documented, and formed in the ordinary course, rather than for the purpose of evading the E.O."
The implementation of the revised ban was far less chaotic on Thursday night than when the initial ban went into effect in January.
As the restrictions went into effect Thursday night, the scene at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York was business as usual — with slight delays for passengers only because of a minor, unrelated restaurant fire in one of the airport’s terminals.
A group of five or six lawyers and immigrant advocates, part of the New York Immigrant Coalition, gathered in Terminal 4 with spreadsheets of all flights expected to come in that could include passengers from the countries included in the ban.
“We’re not expecting anything terrible to happen. We really don’t think we’re going to see the impact at the airports. We could be wrong. Obviously we’re here because we don’t want to be wrong but if we are we’re ready,” Camille Mackler, the New York Immigration Coalition's director of legal initiatives, told BuzzFeed News, adding that more lawyers, interpreters, and tech people were on call just in case.
Across the country, the scene was mostly the same at Los Angeles International Airport. Volunteer attorneys at LAX from groups like Public Counsel, OneJustice, and CAIR who sat behind a table with a "free legal help" sign said they haven't heard of any travelers having any issues getting into the country.
Arielle Morrison, senior staff attorney with OneJustice, said they didn't expect any issues like the ones travelers encountered in January. They've also been able to establish a contact with Customs and Border Protection.
"This is a lot more open than the first time around. The first time around CBP closed its offices," Morrison told BuzzFeed News.
Outside the Tom Bradley International terminal a small group of protesters held anti-Trump signs and chanted "No Trump, no Pence, no fascist USA."
So who counts as "close family," according to the State Department?
However, just before the ban went into effect, the State Department language changed — moving fiancés to being considered "close family."
Confusingly, a Homeland Security Frequently Asked Questions page did not mention fiancés in either grouping as the ban went into effect.
A little before 9 p.m. ET, however, DHS updated the website to include fiancés as close family members.
What "entity" connections are sufficient, according to the State Department? The department gives examples: College admission or a job offer would count, for example, but a hotel reservation would not.
In the background briefing call, a senior administration official stated that visa application processes, including interviews, would continue during this implementation of the travel ban.
According to the State Department cable, interviews will first determine whether a person is eligible for a visa in the absence of the executive order, then whether the exceptions apply to them. If they are otherwise eligible but an exception doesn't apply, they can seek an individualized waiver, according to the cable — a process confirmed by a senior administration official.
Similar family and "entity" connection exceptions apply for the implementation of the 120-day halt to the refugee program.
The big distinction regarding the refugee ban is that it is not limited to the six countries in question, but rather applies to the entire program of refugees worldwide seeking to resettle in the US.
As to the entity connections, Homeland Security detailed in its FAQ the fact that resettlement agencies do not qualify as sufficient connections.
"The fact that a resettlement agency in the United States has provided an assurance for a refugee seeking admission, or that an organization has engaged in representational activity for the purpose of assisting a refugee to seek admission is not sufficient in and of itself to establish a bona fide relationship for that refugee with an entity in the United States," the guidance stated.
The ban will not affect refugees scheduled to travel to the US through July 6.
The ACLU, which represents plaintiffs in one of the challenges before the Supreme Court, has already said that it views the new policy as not meeting the requirements laid out by the court.
Hawaii, a plaintiff in the other case before the Supreme Court went back to the district court about an hour before the ban was due to go into effect, asking the court to "clarify" the existing injunction by making the following three statements in a clarifying order:
Neal Katyal, a partner at Hogan Lovells, is a lawyer for Hawaii:
Advocates were preparing earlier Thursday to deal with fallout from the implementation of the ban, gathering at major airports across the country.
Immigration lawyers and advocates gathered at JFK Airport in New York City on Thursday morning ahead of the partial reinstatement of the ban, expressing concern over the State Department’s narrow definition of “family” — which initially excluded grandparents, fiancés, and others who people typically consider to be family members.
"I don't know in what family you don't consider your grandparents part of the family," Murad Awawdeh, NYIC political director, told BuzzFeed News.
He said the State Department cable still leaves room for ambiguity — he’s concerned families who had planned to visit could be denied entry in the coming days.
“Once the guidelines are issued we are ready, able and willing to file a lawsuit against discriminatory practices. But this is just like last time, the guidelines weren't released and weren't clear and it led to a lot of confusion," Awawdeh said.
Organizers from the coalition said they would have lawyers at the ready in case of any detentions or refusals of entry at the airport when the bans took effect at 8 p.m. ET.
Refugee advocates, specifically, addressed their concerns as well.
A spokesperson for resettlement agency HIAS, having heard that resettlement agency connections likely would be insufficient, said that was "a little crazy."
"Resettlement agencies are US-based organizations. HIAS is one and there are eight others,” said Melanie Nezer, senior VP for public affairs for HIAS.
And for refugees with family members in the US, she said, “bona fide” family relationships could also be harder to prove.
“It’s daunting in the easiest of circumstances — let alone a refugee whose family member may not even have had a birth certificate,” Nezer said. “This could mean that many many months or even years of delay for people who just want to find safety, get their kids in school, go to work.”
Adolfo Flores contributed to this report.
Chris Geidner is a Supreme Court correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
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