The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals began debate on Monday over the interpretation of Donald Trump’s executive travel ban, expressing skepticism on the administration’s efforts to construe grandparents and cousins as anything other than close relatives.
A series of Supreme Court directives in June and July allowed certain parts of the travel ban to take effect.
While the justices allowed the government to partially block immigration from six Muslim-majority countries, they ruled that individuals with ‘bona fide relationships’ to persons or entities in the United States should not arbitrarily be refused entry or visas.
The ruling reversed – at least in part – decisions made by lower federal and federal appeals courts, which broadly injuncted President Trump’s travel ban.
Now the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is trying to determine the definition of a close family member, which allows would-be migrants to claim and established and bona fide relationship with a person residing on American soil.
The Justice Department has been trying to argue that grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles don’t fit the bill.
Their arguments have been met with skepticism by the 9th Circuit Court’s three-judge panel.
“How can the government take the position that a grandmother or a grandfather or aunt or uncle of a child in the U.S. does not have a close familial relationship?” asked Judge Ronald Gould in Seattle. “Like, what universe does that come from?”
Gould’s reaction was met with a cautious amount of acceptance from Justice Department attorney Hashim Mooppan.
“The government doesn’t dispute that many people have a profound connection with their grandparents,” Mooppan said. “And we don’t even dispute that in ordinary speech and sometimes even in legal contexts, one might refer to grandparents and even other extended family members as close. That doesn’t mean that for a legal definition of ‘close family’ that that would count, and Congress themselves have recognized that.”
Mooppan, according to Politico, said the Trump administration’s preferred definition of ‘close family’ was more in line with existing federal and immigration conventions. He said the federal government’s interpretation of the term is “one that’s not based just on intuition or cherry-picking statutes but one that’s based on a line that can be drawn and that was clear to government from the moment the court ruled.”
Politico notes that the Justice Department’s argument does have numerus precedents in existing immigration law.
However, the argument has been somewhat confounded by another recent development with the Supreme Court, which ruled that an American citizen’s mother-in-law was covered by the umbrella of ‘close family.’
“What is significantly different between a grandparent and a mother-in-law or father-in-law?” asked Judge Richard Paez. “What is so different about the two categories? One is in and one is out.”
“’Close family’ has to have some meaning,” said Mooppan at another point in the 40-minute argument. “It can’t just mean all family except the most distant.”
Arguments were also heard on the travel ban’s restriction on refugee admissions from war-torn countries in the Middle-East and Africa.
The Trump administration is vigorously trying to dissuade the courts a potential refugee’s connection and acceptance by a refugee resettlement agency doesn’t constitute a bona fide relationship to the United States, either.