The Turbulent Six-Month History of Trump’s Travel Ban—And the Uncertainties That Now Endanger Our Allies
By Saadia H. Khan
Six months into the Trump Administration, one of the most politically charged issues is “the ban.”
On January 27, 2017, the president issued an executive order that barred the entry of nationals from seven Muslim majority countries for 90 days, halted refugee admissions for 120 days and slashed refugee admissions by 60,000. After the executive order created chaos in airports across the country, a lower court blocked the order. In quick succession, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals prevented it from being reinstated.
This led the administration to issue a new executive order on March 6, 2017. Executive Order 13780 prevented the entrance of nationals from six Muslim majority countries—Iraq was removed—and barred refugee admissions for 120 days and slashed refugee admissions by 60,000.
Both the Fourth and Ninth Circuit Courts of Appeals blocked the new order from taking effect.
But on June 26, 2017, the Supreme Court made a short-term decision that reversed the trajectory of the president’s executive order. The Court temporarily lifted most of the preceding legal blocks. Until it hears the case in October, the Court ruled, the travel ban will take partial effect.
However, the Supreme Court provided an exception to this ruling. The Administration cannot bar the entry of individuals with a “bona fide relationship” to a U.S. person or entity.
The Supreme Court defined a bona fide relationship to a U.S. person as being “close familial” ties, and to an entity as “formal, documented, and formed in the ordinary course.” The Administration claimed the term “bona fide relationship” did not include resettlement agencies or U.S. affiliated Iraqis.
Soon after the Supreme Court’s decision, the Trump Administration issued guidelines regarding what constitutes a close familial relationship with a U.S. person. The Administration’s definition excluded grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins.
Within half a month of this announcement, the state of Hawaii challenged the Trump Administration’s narrow guidelines. On July 13, 2017, the U.S. District Court of Hawaii sided with the plaintiffs and expanded the definition of a bona fide relationship.
Judge Watson, who presided over the case, stated that the Administration’s definition of a close familial relationship represented the “antithesis of common sense.” The judge accordingly expanded the definition of what constitutes a close familial relationship to a U.S. person to include grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, and other relatives.
But what about refugees who have finished and cleared the vetting process for resettlement? There are currently approximately 25,000 refugees who have been cleared to resettle in the United States from all over the world. Are they to be denied entry and banned from coming to the United States?
According to Judge Watson, certainly not. He ruled that individuals that have been fully vetted and given assurances from a resettlement agency satisfy the “formal, documented, and formed in the ordinary course” requirement of having a bona fide relationship to a U.S. entity.
Following Judge Watson’s new guidelines of what qualifies as a bona fide relationship to a U.S. person or entity, the Trump Administration went to the Supreme Court to appeal this decision. On July 19, 2017, the Court upheld Judge Watson’s interpretation of what constitutes a close familial relationship.
But in the same ruling, the Court paused the admission of refugees who have been given assurances from a resettlement agency. The Supreme Court required the Administration to follow the proper appeals process and return to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to decide this detail of Judge Watson’s guidelines.
In the meantime, the halt on these refugee admissions will have devastating consequences.
Among these consequences is the exclusion of many of our vulnerable wartime allies. Under the Administration’s narrow refugee acceptance guidelines, U.S.-affiliated Iraqis who work or worked for the U.S. government, military, contactors, and other U.S.-based media or non-governmental organizations and whose lives are at risk because of this affiliation are denied entrance.
Back in 2008, President Bush signed the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act into law. This Act created two pathways for Iraqi nationals whose lives were endangered because of their assistance to U.S. forces to enter the United States. The intention behind the Act was to make a clear statement that America stands with its Iraqi wartime allies who have served alongside U.S. forces and risked their lives doing so.
One of the pathways for Iraqis to enter the United States was through the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, which allowed Iraqis who were employed by or on behalf of the U.S. military to enter. But that program ended and stopped taking applications in September 2014.
The other path for Iraqis to come to America is through the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). Through USRAP, a broader category of U.S.-affiliated Iraqis are eligible to enter through the Direct Access Program (P2 category). The Direct Access Program allows applicants to bypass the typical referral from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
With the recent executive order barring the entrance of refugees for 120 days and lowering the refugee admissions fiscal year goal to 50,000, though, the Direct Access Program is moot. Iraqis who assisted the United States remain in danger.
As the travel ban continues, our country, our history, and our values erode. Action is critical now to reestablish and strengthen these values. Recognizing that U.S. affiliated Iraqis should continue to be admitted is an important place to start.
Veterans for American Ideals (VFAI) members have been at the forefront of advocating for our Iraqi allies. VFAI is concerned about how the executive order harms the country strategically, as the travel ban breaks faith with those brave people who have risked their lives to help the country achieve its mission abroad.
Our Iraqi wartime allies have continued to fight alongside us. The Administration not recognizing these brave individuals as having a bona fide relationship with the United States is troubling.
Take action now, and help VFAI push the Administration to declare that any U.S. affiliated Iraqi applying through the Direct Access Program has, by default, a bona fide relationship with the United States.