WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - The state of Hawaii asked a federal judge in Honolulu on Thursday to clarify a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that reinstated parts of President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban, arguing that the Trump administration had interpreted the court’s decision too narrowly.
In a court filing, Hawaii said the U.S. government intended to violate the Supreme Court’s instructions by improperly excluding from the United States people who actually have a close family relationship to U.S. persons.
The 90-day ban took effect at 8 p.m. EDT (0000 GMT Friday) along with a 120-day ban on all refugees.
On Monday, the Supreme Court revived parts of a travel ban on people from six Muslim-majority countries, narrowing the scope of lower court rulings that had blocked parts of a March 6 executive order and allowing his temporary ban to go into effect for people with no strong ties to the United States.
The court agreed to hear arguments during its next term starting in October to decide finally whether the ban is lawful.
The Supreme Court exempted from the ban travelers and refugees with a “bona fide relationship” with a person or entity in the United States. As an example, the court said those with a “close familial relationship” with someone in the United States would be covered.
The Trump administration decided on the basis of its interpretation of the court’s language that grandparents, grandchildren and fiancés traveling from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen would be barred from obtaining visas while the ban was in place.
In its court filing, Hawaii echoed criticism from immigrant and refugee groups that the Trump administration had defined too narrowly who should be exempted.
Hawaii called the refusal to recognize grandparents, fiancés, and other relatives as an acceptable family relationship “a plain violation of the Supreme Court’s command.”
Hawaii’s Attorney General Doug Chin asked U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson in Honolulu, who blocked Trump’s travel ban in March, to issue an order “as soon as possible” clarifying how the Supreme Court’s ruling should be interpreted.
Karen Tumlin, legal director of the National Immigration Law Center, said the administration’s guidance “would slam the door shut on so many who have waited for months or years to be reunited with their families.”
Asked how barring grandparents or grandchildren makes the United States safer, a senior U.S. official did not directly answer, but instead pointed to Trump’s guidance to pause “certain travel while we review our security posture.”
The U.S. government expects “things to run smoothly” and “business as usual” at U.S. ports of entry, another senior U.S. official told reporters.
The administration said that refugees who have agreements with resettlement agencies but not close family in the United States would not be exempted from the ban, likely sharply limiting the number of refugees allowed entry in coming months.
Refugee resettlement agencies had expected that their formal links with would-be refugees would qualify as “bona fide.” But U.S. officials said on Thursday that, for now, that sort of relationship was not enough to qualify refugees for entry.
The administration’s decision likely means that few refugees beyond a 50,000-cap set by Trump would be allowed into the country this year. A U.S. official said that as of Wednesday evening, 49,009 refugees had been allowed into the country this fiscal year. The State Department said refugees scheduled to arrive through July 6 could still enter.
Trump first announced a temporary travel ban on Jan. 27, calling it a counterterrorism measure to allow time to develop better security vetting. The order caused chaos at airports, as officials scrambled to enforce it before being blocked by courts. Opponents argued that the measure discriminated against Muslims and that there was no security rationale for it.
A revised version of the ban was also halted by courts.
The State Department guidance, distributed to all U.S. diplomatic posts on Wednesday evening and seen by Reuters, fleshed out the Supreme Court’s ruling about people who have a “bona fide” relationship with an individual or entity in the United States.
It defined a close familial relationship as being a parent, spouse, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law or sibling, including step-siblings and other step-family relations.
A department cable said grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, fiancés, “and any other ‘extended’ family members” are not considered close family.
The guidelines also said that workers with offers of employment from a company in the United States or a lecturer addressing U.S. audiences would be exempt from the ban, but that arrangements such as a hotel reservation would not be considered bona fide relationships.
Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed, Lawrence Hurley and Susan Heavey in Washington and Gabriella Borter in New York