The Supreme Court’s “Bona Fide” Rule Will Hurt Refugees The Most
After months of debate, arguing, and court hearings, part of President Donald Trump's travel ban is set to begin Thursday evening. While the president's executive order had been struck down in multiple courts, the Supreme Court ruled for parts of the order to be enforced, with exceptions. Travelers with a "bona fide relationship to people or entities" living in the United States will be granted passage, but the Supreme Court's "bona fide" decision locks out refugees from travel here.
The Court's decision allows implementation of part of Trump's revised travel ban, which barred people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen for 90 days and refugees for 120 days. The "bona fide relationships to people or entities" applies to family members, students accepted at American universities, employees of American companies, or lecturers invited to speak to an American audience.
However, for refugees being resettled into the United States via an organization, the question of a bona fide relationship is a murky one. Justin Cox, a staff attorney with the National Immigration Law Center, told Vox that one could make a case that refugees being resettled by an organization do have a bona fide relationship with the lawyers they're working with. But the government agencies enforcing the ban may not see it the same way.
In the Supreme Court's ruling on Monday, two of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit wanted to enter the country because of a spouse and a mother-in-law. The justices ruled that those family members were close enough for the people to enter the country. However, the court didn't lay out a guideline for how close the family members need to be for it to be considered "bona fide." This left the determination to the State Department, which considers family members to be parents, spouses, children, adult sons or daughters, in-laws, or siblings — including step-siblings and half-siblings.
This could cause some refugees to be blocked from passage if they are lacking a close family member already in America.
According to ABC News, there are around 36,000 Sudanese refugees awaiting U.S. resettlement. Many of them fled Sudan's Islamic militants. But while they may have left Sudan and its violence, they are still in danger while waiting in Egypt because of Sudanese militants who have gained passage to the country and are able to threaten and hurt them. The effects of the travel ban and Supreme Court's ruling could leave them stranded there for an indefinite future.
Tayeb Ibrahim, a Sudanese refugee in Cairo, told ABC News of the Court's ruling, "I'm totally depressed. I was approved over a year ago for resettlement, just passed my medical exam last week and was hoping to see family living in Iowa. But instead I'll be stuck here worried about my physical safety."
Ibrahim was nearly blinded with acid after being attacked by Sudanese agents and was kidnapped before escaping back into Egypt. Although Ibrahim was approved for resettlement, he doesn't have any travel documents, so he is unable to leave Egypt.
In 2010, a man named Abu Talib Ali fled Sudan and was granted asylum in Minnesota, which has a large Sudanese community. According to Minnesota Public Radio News, he was tortured and imprisoned in Sudan because opposed strict religious law.
At the time, Ali had no family in the United States, but was still able to start a new life here. Had he been seeking asylum today, he may not have been able to gain entry. He told MPR News, "This is the place that has helped me feel safe for the first time in 20 years. Now, I am very afraid that people like me will not be able to find safety."
Refugees from other countries included in the ban are also seeking asylum from a war-torn country. Syria has been experiencing a civil war for the last six years, with more than 5 million Syrians fleeing the country during that time. And the refugees who are attempting to resettle and escape the violence may end up getting stuck for a time, especially if they don't have a bona fide connection to the United States.
Some refugees are actually suing President Trump for the right to enter the country via a resettlement organization. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear International Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump in October.
While the Supreme Court's decision to qualify the ban slightly lifts the burden for some, many others will still be stuck in limbo because of the bona fide restriction.