The US government plans to temporarily not issue any refugees the travel documents needed to come to the US after July 12 — even if those refugees meet the Supreme Court's requirement that they have "bona fide relationship" with someone in the US to enter, according to a guidance letter from the Department of State.
The latest guidance letter sent to resettlement agencies from the Department of State's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration on Monday moved the deadline for refugees to enter the US from July 6 to "on or around" July 12, or as soon as the 50,000 person cap on the number of refugees being allowed into the country is met.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court limited President Trump's travel and refugee ban to prevent the government from enforcing it against people with "a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States."
But the State Department's guidance says that the government will not issue any new Advanced Booking Notices — the documents that agencies say are required for all refugees to enter the US — "for cases with or without the required bona fide relationship to a person or entity in the United States" until they "clarify verification procedures" in the "very near future."
Although the department has told agencies the process for establishing evidence of a “close familial relationship,” there does not appear to yet be a process in place for establishing connection to an entity in the US. The memo reads, "We are still determining the process for an entity in the U.S. to present documentation or other verifiable information supporting a credible claim by a refugee to a bona fide relationship with that entity, and will provide additional guidance shortly."
After the 50,000 cap it met, refugees who already had their ABN paperwork in place will need to have one of the "qualifying relationships" to enter the US.
Two agencies that work with refugees told BuzzFeed News they have not received updated guidance since Monday's memo.
The letter also says the "national interest waiver" — which could, for example, have applied to religious minorities or extremely urgent protection cases — will not apply "until such time that a new Presidential Determination for FY 2018 is signed."
"That seems like a pretty blatant violation of the SCOTUS order to me," Becca Heller, director of the International Refugee Assistance Project, a legal aid and assistance group, told BuzzFeed News when asked about the guidance. "That’s a full ban."
"It guts the waiver process which is a big deal I think," she continued. "I find it really upsetting, terrifying and illegal."
Another agency, which handles refugee resettlements, told BuzzFeed News they expect new guidance to be issued by the time they bring in refugees they already have lined who have ABNs and "bona fide" relationships.
They said they also didn't see any cases of the national interest waivers actually being used during the implementation of previous versions of the travel ban—possibly because those Executive Orders were stayed by courts so quickly.
The guidance letter does allow for Visa 93 holders—refugees including adults joining a spouse or minor children joining a parent—to arrive in the US throughout the 120-day ban that will take effect after the cap is met.
The Department of State didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. But at a press briefing on Thursday afternoon, spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters, "There was never any particular date that was set out," in response to a question about the change in the deadline from the 6th to "on or around" the12th, as BuzzFeed previously reported.
"I’m not going to name a date but I will tell you this. We have not reached that number of 50,000 refugees yet. When we do reach that number of 50,000 refugees that will be the time."
Nidhi Prakash is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York
Contact Nidhi Prakash at email@example.com.
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