A federal judge in Hawaii has ruled that the government must exempt grandparents and other close relatives of U.S. residents from the limited version of President Donald Trump’s travel ban that took effect June 29.

Key Points:

  • U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson ruled that the government must count grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews as “close family members” for the purpose of determining who is exempt from the travel ban, which prevents nationals of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from traveling to the U.S. for a 90-day period.
  • The Supreme Court ruled on June 26 that a limited version of the ban could take effect, but that those with a “bona fide” relationship to U.S. persons or entities must be exempted. The court specifically stated that those qualifying for an exemption based on individual relationships must have a “close familial relationship.” The government subsequently issued guidance exempting individuals with a parent, spouse, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law or sibling residing in the U.S. The guidance was then amended to include fiancés on the list of those qualifying for exemption. The limited version of the ban took effect June 29.
  • The State of Hawaii challenged the government’s implementation of the Executive Order, saying that its interpretation of the Supreme Court’s ruling was too  narrow. Judge Watson agreed. “Common sense … dictates that close family members be defined to include grandparents,” Watson wrote. “Indeed, grandparents are the epitome of close family members.” Watson also accepted the state’s argument that grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews should also be covered as “close family members” qualifying for an exemption.
  • Hawaii’s legal challenge did not concern the government’s guidelines for those with employment or business ties to the U.S. However, as BAL previously reported, the State Department has made it clear that journalists, students and workers or lecturers who have valid invitations or employment contracts in the U.S. are exempt from the ban. The exemption does not apply to those who seek a relationship with an American business or educational institution purely for the purpose of maneuvering around the rules. A hotel reservation or car rental contract, even if prepaid, will also not count.
  • BAL anticipates that short-term business travelers in possession of an invitation letter from a U.S. company will also be exempt from the travel ban, but this is not clearly addressed in the guidance the State Department has issued.

BAL Analysis: The State Department and Justice Department are expected to review the decision and issue additional guidance. The administration will likely appeal the ruling, which broadens the categories of people who can qualify for an exemption to the travel ban based on a family tie to someone in the U.S. On the whole, those with legitimate travel needs to visit family or for work or business will not be kept from traveling for the time being, though the litigation is ongoing. BAL is carefully monitoring the situation and will continue to provide updates on important developments. An FAQ on the Executive Order and who it applies to is available here.

This alert has been provided by the BAL U.S. Practice group. For additional information, please contact BerryApplemanLeiden@bal.com.

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