Posted by Ryan J. Suto on July 19, 2017 in Blog

Today the Supreme Court affirmed an expansion of “familial relationships” exception to Trump’s Muslim Ban, but allowed the Administration to further limit refugee resettlement until later courts weigh in. 


  • Citizens of Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen and Iran are not allowed to travel to the United States unless they have 1) familial ties or 2) bona fide relations with US persons or entities.
    • Family ties include: parent, parent-in-law, spouse, fiancé, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, sibling (whether whole or half), step relationships, grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-in-law and sisters in law.
    • bona fide relations include: connections with a U.S. entity that are formal and documented, such as admissions to a university or a job offer. 
  • Refugees which do not have the above connections to the US are not allowed to enter the US. A relationship with a US-based resettlement agency is not enough. The Ninth Circuit will be ruling on an appeal on this aspect of the ban.
  • The above is all in effect until the Supreme Court reviews the merits of the Executive Order (EO). The Court will hear arguments on October 10. 


Last month we analyzed the status of President Trump’s travel ban EO after its procedural day at the Supreme Court. The ban remains in place until the Court hears arguments about the full Constitutional merits of the EO, slated for October. Since those developments, some notable legal steps have occurred.

The Trump Administration interpreted the ruling narrowly, including only parents, siblings, children, spouses, and step relations in the “close familial relationships” the Supreme Court exempted from the ban. The Administration also interpreted the Court’s “bona fide relationship” requirements as excluding a refugee’s connection to a resettlement agency. 

On July 7 that interpretation was challenged by the state of Hawaii in front of federal District Judge Derrick Watson, the judge who previously ruled against the Administration on the EO. In that case, the Judge declined to rule on the government’s scope, arguing that only the Supreme Court can rule on the issue. Hawai’i appealed, and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sent it back to Judge Watson to rule.

On July 13 Watson issued an opinion, and in it accused the Administration of “cherry-picking” in a search for statutory grounding for its narrow interpretation of “close familial relationships.” He ruled that grandparents, grandchildren, aunts/uncles, cousins, etc. are to be exempted from the ban, as well. Judge Watson further held that those with documented and formalized relationships with refugee resettlement agencies in the US are “bona fide relationships,” and thus should be excluded from the ban. He added, “Bona fide does not get any more bona fide than that”.

The Trump Administration instantly objected to the ruling, and filed an emergency appeal to the Supreme Court. On July 19 the Court issued a brief order, which effectively allowed for Judge Watson’s interpretation of “close familial relationships” to stand, but sided with the Administration regarding the limitations on refugees, inviting the Ninth Circuit to hear the Government’s appeal on that matter.

As we predicted in June, the Supreme Court’s ambiguous per curiam decision has led to further legal battles over increasingly narrow details of the ban. With a pending Ninth Circuit decision that could itself be appealed to the Supreme Court, the Trump Administration will continue to spend government resources defending an attempt to codify discrimination within US immigration policy.