The State Department has outlined new instructions recognizing grandparents and other relatives as “close family,” expanding the definition of close familial relationships (in the context of immigration) and making these family members eligible for visas. The instructions, released to consulates and U.S. embassies, also expands the range of citizens who can apply for visas from the six Muslim-majority countries currently under the Trump administration’s travel ban.
Just a few weeks after being sworn into office, President Trump issued an Executive order banning travel from Muslim-majority countries for 90 days and all refugees for 120 days. But the order was quickly blocked by a Seattle court, which filed an injunction against the so-called Muslim ban. The White House issued a revised order, which was blocked yet again by a Hawaii court.
However, last month, the Supreme Court ruled that certain parts of the executive order would be allowed, at least until oral arguments would be formally heard in court. The ruling creates an exemption for travelers from countries with verifiable “bona fide relationships” with a person in the US.
For a time, the State Department only recognized parents, spouses or fiancées, siblings, children, and children-in-law as “close family,” reasoning that it was only following existing immigration laws. Additionally, the State Department decided that the relationships between a resettlement agency and those it planned to settle in the U.S. would still be included in the ban.
However, Hawaii Federal District Court Judge Derrick K. Watson considered the definition much too narrow, saying that “the government’s definition represents the antithesis of common sense.” Watson later included grandparents, grandchildren, uncles, aunts, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, nephews, nieces, and first cousins as qualified for such classification of relationship.
“Common sense, for instance, dictates that close family members be defined to include grandparents. Indeed, grandparents are the epitome of close family members. The government’s definition excludes them. That simply cannot be,” he said.
In response to the administration’s exclusion of refugee ties to resettlement agencies, Watson also wrote:
“An assurance from a United States refugee resettlement agency, in fact, meets each of the Supreme Court’s touchstones. … It is formal, it is a documented contract, it is binding, it triggers responsibilities and obligations including compensation, it is issued specific to an individual refugee only when that refugee has been approved for entry by the Department of Homeland Security.”
Judge Watson was one of many federal judges responsible for stopping Trump’s travel ban, identifying it as unconstitutional and discriminatory against a particular class of people – Muslims.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has since issued new instructions to allow entry for qualified immigrants from the countries under the ban: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.
If you, or a loved one or family member, are one of the thousands affected by this travel ban, we encourage you to get in touch with the Lyttle Law Firm to discuss your rights and possible course of action. Call our offices today to schedule a consultation with immigration attorney Daniella Lyttle.