Three federal appeals-court judges heard arguments Monday over who should be allowed into the U.S. under President Donald Trump’s travel ban.
Three federal appeals-court judges on Monday challenged the Trump administration’s limited view of who is allowed into the country under the travel ban, with one questioning from “what universe” the government got the idea that the mother-in-law of a U.S. resident could enter while cousins, aunts and uncles, and grandparents are barred.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court said President Donald Trump’s 90-day ban on visitors from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen can be enforced pending arguments scheduled for October — but only if those visitors lack a “bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States,” such as a close family relationship or a job offer from a U.S. company.
The government interpreted such family relations as including immediate family members and in-laws, but it excluded grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. A judge in Hawaii overruled that interpretation, expanding the definition of who can enter to other categories of relatives. The Hawaii judge also overruled the government’s assertion that refugees from those countries should be banned even if a refugee-resettlement agency in the U.S. had already agreed to take them in.
The administration appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and a three-judge panel heard arguments in Seattle.
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Hashim Mooppan, a deputy assistant attorney general, ran into tough questions as soon as he began arguing the government’s case, with Judge Ronald Gould asking him from “what universe” the administration took its position that grandparents don’t constitute a close family relationship. Similarly, Judge Richard Paez asked why an in-law would be allowed in, but not a grandparent.
Mooppan conceded that people can have a profound connection to their grandparents and other extended relatives, but said the administration had to draw the line somewhere, based largely on definitions used in other aspects of immigration law. The difference, he insisted, are that parents-in-law are only one step removed from the family unit, while a grandparent or grandchild is more than one step removed.
“It can’t just mean all family except the most distant,” he said.
Paez didn’t buy it. The Supreme Court didn’t say people had to have an “immediate family relationship,” he later noted, but a “close familial relationship.” If the justices meant the former, they would have said so, he said.
The judges also questioned the government’s claim that having a sponsoring resettlement agency doesn’t qualify a refugee as having a “bona fide” relationship with a U.S. organization. The agency’s relationship is not directly with the refugee, but with the government, Mooppan insisted. But he agreed the Supreme Court didn’t specify the relationship be direct.