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New definition for relatives exempted from Trump travel ban notified

The US state department has expanded the definition of “close family” for President Donald Trump’s temporary ban on visitors from six Muslim countries even as restrictions on laptops and electronic devices on US-bound flights were diluted.

world Updated: Jul 18, 2017 22:23 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Washington
US President Donald Trump,US travel ban,US immigration
File photo of US President Donald Trump holding a signed proclamation designating July 17 the "Made in America Day." (AFP)

The US state department has expanded the definition of “close family” exempted from the temporary travel ban on visitors from six predominantly Muslim countries to include grandparents, grandchildren and other relatives of US residents.

The exemptions, as notified to US missions worldwide, now cover parents, children, siblings, sons-in-law, daughters-in-law, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, stepchildren, grandparents, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts, uncles and fiances.

A similar dilution of restrictions has been taking place as regards laptops and other electronic devices allowed as cabin baggage on US-bound flights from West Asian countries. Saudi Arabian airlines on Monday became the last to be freed from the ban.

The restrictions were introduced in March but began to be dropped recently as the US announced new security guidelines applying to all airlines, and a revised directive was sent out by the department of homeland security last Thursday.

But these changes were not mandated by courts as has been the case with President Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban on visitors from six Muslim-majority countries — Iran, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Libya.

The expansion of the exempted list was ordered by a Hawaii court, which called the administration’s definition “the antithesis of common sense”. It found the exclusion of grandparents — the “epitome” of close family members — specially egregious.

The Trump administration has appealed against the order but has begun implementing it. “The ruling is effective immediately and we have issued instructions to our embassies and consulates to use the expanded definition when adjudicating visa cases,” the state department said.

Trump first ordered the temporary ban in January, just days after assuming office. At the time, it prevented all visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries - Iraq was the seventh - from entering the US for 90 days. Refugees from these countries were prohibited for a longer period, 120 days, and those from Syria were banned forever.

The ban rolled out to worldwide outrage and confusion and was mired in legal challenges from the night it went into effect.

International passengers embrace family members as they arrive at Washington Dulles International Airport after the Trump administration's travel ban was allowed back into effect pending further judicial review on June 29, 2017. (Reuters)

The administration tried again, with a narrower ban in March, which was allowed to be partially implemented by the Supreme Court in June after exempting visitors claiming “bona fide…close familial relationships” with US residents and entities.

But the apex court left it to the administration to define the term “close family”. It came up with one that ran into trouble right away — it covered only parents, children, siblings, sons-in-law, daughters-in-law, fiances and stepchildren.

In its appeal to the Supreme Court, the justice department said the Hawaii court’s order “empties the court's decision of meaning, as it encompasses not just 'close' family members, but virtually all family members”.

“Treating all of these relationships as ‘close familial relationship(s)’ reads the term ‘close’ out of the court's decision.”

First Published: Jul 18, 2017 22:23 IST