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Hawaii Challenges 'Close Family' Definition In Trump's Travel Ban

The state disputes how the administration draws the line on "bona fide" relationships to limit travelers from six countries.

30/06/2017 5:44 AM IST | Updated 30/06/2017 6:21 AM IST

Hawaii has filed a challenge to the State Department’s implementation of President Donald Trump’s travel ban, disputing the administration’s guidelines for what relationships to the U.S. are necessary to continue travel to the country.

Hawaii is challenging guidance issued by the State Department on Wednesday that says travelers from the six banned countries must have formal ties or close family relationships with someone or an entity within the U.S. Having familial ties “does not include grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, fiancés, and any other ‘extended’ family members,” the guidance said. (The State Department later said fiancés would, in fact, count as close family.) 

In its motion, Hawaii asked a federal judge to clarify that the Trump administration can’t enforce those bans. 

“The state of Hawaii is entitled to the enforcement of the injunction that it has successfully defended, in large part, up to the Supreme Court — one that protects the State’s residents and their loved ones from an illegal and unconstitutional Executive Order,” reads the state’s motion.

“In Hawaii, ‘close family’ includes many of the people that the federal government decided on its own to exclude from that definition,” said Hawaii Attorney General Douglas Chin. “Unfortunately, this severely limited definition may be in violation of the Supreme Court ruling.”

Trump signed the executive order, which seeks to ban travel to the U.S. for most nationals of six Muslim-majority countries for 90 days and suspend refugee resettlement for 120 days, in March.

The travel ban went into effect Thursday, three days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to partially reinstate a watered-down version of it before the court hears arguments on its constitutionality in October. 

In its ruling, the Supreme Court specified that the ban could be implemented with the exception of individuals who have “a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United State.” The court, however, did not specify what qualifies as a “bona fide” relationship, thus leaving the matter up to State Department interpretation.

In March, Hawaii became the first state to sue to block Trump’s second attempt at a travel ban, which included citizens of Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, all majority-Muslim countries. In its suit, the state said its universities would be hurt by the ban because they would struggle to recruit faculty and students. It also argued that the ban would have a detrimental effect on tourism, critical to the state’s economy. 

A federal judge in Hawaii sided with the state in a March 15 ruling, placing a nationwide hold on key aspects of the ban hours before they were to take effect. In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson said the ban likely violated the First Amendment’s establishment clause forbidding the government from favoring or disfavoring one religion over another. 

Any reasonable, objective observer would conclude ... that the stated secular purpose of the Executive Order is, at the very least, secondary to a religious objective of temporarily suspending the entry of Muslims,” Watson wrote. 

In June, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling, citing the president’s tweets

″[T]he President recently confirmed his assessment that it is the ‘countries’ that are inherently dangerous, rather than the 180 million individual nationals of those countries who are barred from entry under the President’s ‘travel ban,’” reads the 9th Circuit ruling.

This is a developing story and has been updated. 

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