The Supreme Court’s decision on Trump’s travel ban raises ‘more questions than answers’ – Business Insider
Supreme Court on Monday allowed parts of President Donald
Trump’s contentious executive order barring citizens of six
majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States for a
90-day period to take effect.
decision included an exemption allowing those citizens to
enter if they have a “credible claim of a bona fide relationship
with a person or entity in the United States.” This has prompted
some confusion, as the justices provided only a few examples of
what constitutes a “bona fide relationship” and how a credible
claim might be verified.
Trump was quick to declare the Supreme Court’s decision a victory
for his administration — but others have said the decision
exempts a potentially wide swath of travelers from being denied
entry, depending on how federal officials and courts interpret
So what is a “bona fide relationship,” how can one be proved or
disproved, and who decides?
Here’s what we know:
Who can credibly claim a ‘bona fide relationship’?
The Supreme Court in its per curiam ruling said a bona fide
relationship with a person or entity in the US included family
members seeking to visit or live with their US relatives,
students admitted to American universities, workers hired by
American companies, or lecturers invited to speak to American
The justices noted that two of the plaintiffs in the travel-ban
suit sought entry for a spouse and a mother-in-law, both of whom
reside in one of the countries included in the ban. The justices
said each of those family members “clearly” had a “close familial
relationship” and would be permitted to enter.
But the justices didn’t delineate how close the familial
relationship must be. Would a cousin qualify? A niece or nephew?
And as far as nonfamilial exemptions go, there appears to be some
room for interpretation on what counts as an “entity” and to what
extent a foreign national must be related to it.
Reaz Jafri, a partner and the head of the global immigration
practice at the Withers Bergman law firm, told Business Insider
that it was unclear what constitutes “close familial ties” and
that having too close a relation to a US citizen or resident may
work against travelers. Federal officials are often suspicious of
foreigners who say they are visiting a close relative, believing
them to be attempting to unlawfully immigrate to the US under the
guise of visiting temporarily.
“This whole close family ties — it’s a very dangerous thing to
talk about or to use as a basis to get a visa,” Jafri said. “My
sense is that it just creates massive confusion as to who’s going
to get in. Only employees, students, people who have had
green-card cases processed overseas are going to be let in.
Everyone else, in my opinion, are going to be out of luck.”
The Supreme Court’s decision also explicitly states that people
who enter into relationships “simply to avoid” the travel ban are
“For example, a nonprofit group devoted to immigration issues may
not contact foreign nationals from the designated countries, add
them to client lists, and then secure their entry by claiming
injury from their exclusion,” it says.
Some nonprofits and refugee advocates argue that refugees who
already have ties to US organizations should still be allowed to
enter under the court’s exemption — though they concede there’s
no guarantee US officials will interpret it in the same way.
“We believe it would be correct to interpret this language to
mean that all security-vetted and assured refugees that have
family ties or an established connection with resettlement
organizations can safely enter the United States,” Hans Van de
Weerd, a vice president of the International Rescue Committee,
told Business Insider in a statement. But he added that the
Supreme Court’s decision provided “more questions than answers.”
“Until the administration implements the court order in this
spirit, we remain deeply concerned that many refugees are at risk
of not being able to find safe haven in the United States,” he
The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the
plaintiffs, appears to have adopted a broad reading of the bona
fide relationship exemption, saying in a
blog post that people with relationships to US schools,
employers, or nonprofit organizations may still enter the
“A large proportion of those who would otherwise be barred by the
Muslim ban do have family in this country, and remain protected
under the Supreme Court’s order,” Cody Wofsy, an ACLU staff
attorney, said in the post. “It appears relatively few can be
legitimately prohibited under the Supreme Court’s decision.”
Who decides whether someone has a ‘bona fide relationship’?
The Department of Homeland Security is in charge of the border
crossings and ports of entry into the US, and its agents are
given much discretion when it comes to admitting or denying
The Trump administration has not yet laid out a plan for
implementing the travel ban with the Supreme Court’s exemption,
but DHS has said it will soon provide details after consulting
with the State and Justice departments.
In his dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas said the decision would
bring a “flood of litigation” as travelers attempt to discern
“what exactly constitutes a ‘bona fide relationship,’ who
precisely has a ‘credible claim’ to that relationship, and
whether the claimed relationship was formed ‘simply to avoid'”
the travel ban.
It’s possible the meaning of a “bona fide relationship” and the
extent of the Supreme Court’s exemption will not be clear until
travelers are barred from entry by US officials and seek redress
through litigation, which Thomas also said was likely to reach
the same courts that blocked the travel ban from being
implemented in the first place.
But Jafri said litigation probably wouldn’t occur unless US
residents or American companies can prove they’ve been harmed by
“If a CBP officer believes that your purpose for coming here is
legitimate and bona fide, they’ll admit you,” Jafri said,
referring to Customs and Border Protection. “If they feel it’s
not, they’ll deny you admission. And you can’t appeal that. You
can’t litigate that. You’re just going back, and that’s it.”
In the meantime, Jafri said he was advising clients not to travel
unless they have a strong reason for doing so. Those who do
attempt to enter, he said, should have documentation that
supports their reason for travel. Visitors should show US
officials all invitations, schedules, correspondence, hotel
reservations, return-flight tickets, and ties to their home
countries to prove they intend to return home afterward.
“Hope for the best,” Jafri said.
How will this exemption be implemented?
Much about the implementation of such an exemption is unclear.
But DHS said in a statement on Monday that it would “be done
professionally, with clear and sufficient public notice,
particularly to potentially affected travelers, and in
coordination with partners in the travel industry.”
Thomas predicted in his dissent that the implementation of such
an exemption would be logistically “unworkable.”
“Today’s compromise will burden executive officials with the task
of deciding — on peril of contempt — whether individuals from the
six affected nations who wish to enter the United States have a
sufficient connection to a person or entity in this country,”
Some immigration advocates, meanwhile, have predicted chaos.
Amnesty International on Monday said it filed a Freedom of
Information Act request for documents about how the federal
government plans to implement the travel ban.
“The public needs to know exactly what agents in airports
nationwide are being told to do, and we need to know now,”
Margaret Huang, Amnesty International USA’s executive director,
said in a statement. “This policy is cruel and discriminatory,
and it could create havoc in airports in the US and around the