President Trump's travel ban was given a partial green light from the Supreme Court on Monday, and as a result, the administration will be allowed to ban some — but not all — citizens from six Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. The court ruled citizens of those countries will only be able to come if they have a "bona fide relationship" to a person or institution in the U.S., but the manner in which that term is defined could result in the arbitrary separation of families from those countries, as one tweet in particular shows.
The New York Times reported that under the ban, the following relationships will be considered "bona fide": parents, children, siblings (including step- and half-), parents-in-law, and children-in-law. Anybody from one of the six countries who has one of the above relationships to someone in the United States will be allowed to enter the country.
But according to the Times, there are many relationships that that State Department will not consider "bona fide." Being a grandparent to someone in the United States won't be enough to exempt someone from the travel ban. Neither will being an aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, sibling-in-law, or fiancé to someone already in America.
Many took issue with this — specifically, the fact that grandparents and fiancés from those six countries won't be allowed to visit their loved ones in the United States, because the State Department doesn't consider the relationships strong enough to warrant exemption from the travel ban. Shayan Modarres, a civil rights attorney and former congressional candidate, noted on Twitter that his Iranian grandmother won't be allowed to come visit him once the ban takes effect.
It's unclear how the State Department concluded, for instance, that grandmothers of U.S. citizens have less of a "bona fide" relationship than a father-in-law. But all of this begs the question: How different is this policy from existing immigration laws? Although the State Department's criteria for "bona fide relationships" may seem overly restrictive, it does have some rough parallels in the laws that are already on the books.
For instance, the Citizenship and Immigration Services' website lists the types of family relationships that are considered close enough to warrant receiving a green card or certain types of temporary visas. Like the scope of Trump's partial travel ban, that list doesn't include grandparents, cousins, nephews, nieces, uncles, aunts, or siblings-in-law — although notably, it does include fiancés.
But that's for people who'd like to stay in the United States long-term. What about foreign citizens who just want to take a quick jaunt to America to visit a family member? Such folks would have to apply for a B-2 visa, regardless of which country they're from, and acquiring a B-2 involves demonstrating the purpose of your visit.
This is where it gets fuzzy. The State Department's website says that "evidence of your employment and/or your family ties may be sufficient to show the purpose of your trip," and yet it offers no specifics about which types of "family ties" are considered sufficient. Perhaps more importantly, the department notes that "visa applicants must qualify on the basis of the applicant's residence and ties abroad, rather than assurances from U.S. family and friends." The implication is that if you're a foreign citizen wishing to visit the United States, having a family relationship to someone in the the country may be helpful, but it won't be sufficient.
In one sense, this suggests that the terms of Trump's travel ban aren't as big of a change from the status quo as they might seem. It's already the case, for instance, that grandparents of U.S. citizens aren't automatically allowed to enter the country by virtue of their family relationship. And yet prior to the implementation of the travel ban, they wouldn't have been automatically blocked from entering, either. Now, if they come from one of the six countries covered under the ban, they'll be automatically prohibited.
In short, the SCOTUS ruling doesn't eliminate any guarantees that foreign family members of U.S. citizens had had with regard to immigration to the country. What it does, rather, is introduce a new mechanism by which such family members are automatically banned from entering the United States if they come from certain countries. This a subtle distinction, but for many foreign citizens with American family members, it could well be a life-changing one.
All of this is potentially just temporary. The Supreme Court didn't rule on the merits of the ban; it simply allowed the administration to implement a limited version of the policy while the court considers the larger legal argument against it.