The Trump Administration Says Some Muslim Grandparents Can't Visit Their Grandkids

June 29th 2017

When the U.S. Supreme Court decided to temporarily reinstate President Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban, it exempted those with “bona fide” ties to the United States. Now, the Trump administration is revealing what it thinks it actually means to have a real and genuine connection to the country—and it doesn’t include having grandchildren or a fiancé there.

In guidance from the State Department, obtained by The New York Times and other media organizations, the U.S. government now defines “close family” in such a way as to exclude “grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-in-laws and sisters-in-law, fiancés and any other ‘extended’ family members.” That interpretation, part of a ban the Trump administration claims will combat the threat of terrorism, takes effect Thursday night.

Lina Baroudi, an immigration lawyer in Oakland, Calif., told ATTN: the new guidance was “outrageous.”

“This definition by the State Department is unprecedented,” Baroudi said. In Baroudi's view, the Supreme court conspicuously avoided using the term "immediate relative"—which means parent, spouse, or child—in favor of the broader "bona fide relationship." However, the State Department's guidance doesn't allow for a broad interpretation. 

At a press briefing on Thursday, the State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert confirmed that the Trump administration is relying on the more restrictive definition of the Immigration and Nationality Act, denying that the standard was "arbitrary" when pressed by reporters on why a student with no family ties could come to the U.S. but someone with grandchildren there could not.

"I'm not going to get into hypotheticals about different family variations and whether or not they should be coming into the United States," Nauert said, asserting the Trump administration's criteria is "fairly broad."

But critics argue the Trump administration's criteria is nowhere near as broad as the nation's highest court intended.

“I think the Supreme Court specifically used broad language, which the administration interpreted in such a narrow way as to exclude people for whom Congress specifically created a visa,” Baroudi told ATTN:. The K-1 visa permits a foreigner to come to the U.S. to “marry his or her U.S. citizen sponsor within 90 days of arrival,” according to the State Department. Now, those foreigners holding a passport from Libya, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Iran, or Somalia, will not be able to take advantage of the travel freedoms provided by the K-1 visa. 

The ACLU, which is challenging the ban in court, did not respond when asked if it plans on also challenging this latest State Department guidance. But in a statement provided to ATTN:, Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said the “reported guidance does not comport with the Supreme Court’s order, is arbitrary, and is not tied to any legitimate government purpose.”

“It remains clear that President Trump’s purpose is to disparage and condemn Muslims,” Jadwat added.

Amnesty International likewise called the guidance “heartless.” The human rights groups has dispatched lawyers to airports in New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC.

“This guidance shows a cruel indifference to families, some already torn apart by war and horrifying levels of violence,” Amnesty’s Naureen Shaha said in a statement. In fact, the U.S. is actively involved in military conflicts raging in four of the six countries directly affected by the ban. “It also defines close family relationships in a way that ignores the reality in many countries, where grandparents, cousins, and in-laws are extremely close.”

The qualified ban applies for at least the next 90 days, and the next 120 days for refugees who have already gone through two or more years of extreme vetting.

UPDATE: On late Thursday, the Trump administration reversed itself and decided to allow one's fiancé to continue entering the United States. The state of Hawaii also challenged the Trump administration's guidance in a federal court.

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