Hawaii urges Supreme Court to exclude grandparents from U.S. travel ban

WASHINGTON, July 18 (Reuters) - The state of Hawaii on Tuesday urged the U.S. Supreme Court not to expand the scope of the Trump administration’s temporary ban on refugees and travelers from six Muslim-majority countries by including grandparents and other family members of U.S. residents.

In a filing responding to a request made by the Trump administration on Friday, the state also asked the court not to further limit the number of refugees eligible to enter the United States under a separate part of U.S. President Donald Trump’s March 6 executive order.

A Supreme Court decision last month revived parts of Trump’s executive order banning travelers from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days, as well as refugees for 120 days. Both had been blocked by lower courts.

The Trump administration has asked the nine justices to overturn a ruling issued last week by a U.S. district judge in Hawaii in favor of the state. The government has a similar request pending in the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Judge Derrick Watson last Thursday rejected the administration’s narrow interpretation of the Supreme Court’s June decision, which said the bans could take effect but that people with a “bona fide relationship” to a U.S. person or entity could not be barred.

Watson ruled that grandparents and various other relatives should be exempted from the ban. He also said that the assurance by a resettlement agency to provide basic services to a newly arrived refugee constitutes an adequate connection to the United States.

In Tuesday’s court filing, Hawaii’s lawyers described the U.S. government’s arguments against Watson’s decision as “nonsense,” saying it was reasonable for the lower court to conclude that grandparents are close relatives.

“The government’s complaint boils down to the belief that any interpretation that meaningfully diminishes the practical consequence of its bans must be wrong,” the state said.

The Hawaii court filing included a copy of a State Department email sent on Friday implementing Watson’s ruling. It orders officials to “proceed to book travel for all refugees who already have an assurance and are otherwise cleared for travel.”

Melanie Nezer, the vice president of the refugee agency HIAS, said some 3,500 refugees are ready to travel but she was not sure what the pace of resettlement would be this week.

The court could act on the Trump administration’s request at any time. (additional reporting by Mica Rosenberg in New York)