TRAVEL BAN: Sen. Coons, Rep. Lofgren file bicameral amici brief opposing Trump administration guidance blocking admission of grandparents and refugees

July 18, 2017
Press Release

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) filed an amici curae brief asking the Supreme Court to uphold the decision of U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson (District of Hawaii), which enjoined portions of the guidance the Trump administration put in place after the Supreme Court's decision about which parts of the travel ban should be permitted to go into effect pending a decision on the merits.  The Trump administration's guidance interpreting "bona fide relationship" excluded many family members and refugees working with resettlement agencies.  Per the district court's decision, a broader category of family members (including grandparents) and refugees already vetted and approved by resettlement agencies would be able to enter the country pending the Supreme Court's decision on the merits of the travel ban. 

"Arbitrarily preventing grandparents from visiting their families and blocking refugees that agencies are working to resettle is cruel and contrary to the Supreme Court's order," said Senator Coons.

"This Administration has misinterpreted the Supreme Court's order, and misconstrued the law with regard to what constitutes a bona fide relationship with a U.S. person or entity. We are urging the Supreme Court today to fix these egregious errors. And, by the way, as a new grandmother I know very well that "grandparent" is a close familial relationship," said Rep. Lofgren.

The amici brief makes the following arguments:

  • The administration's guidance on what familial relations are sufficiently "close" to be covered by the preliminary injunctions is at odds with the Supreme Court's order.
  • The Government erroneously relied on the Immigration and Nationality Act's immigrant visa provisions in interpreting the scope of the Supreme Court's order.The Government's exclusion of refugees with a formal assurance from a U.S. resettlement agency is also at odds with the Supreme Court's order. 

On March 6, 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order suspending entry into the U.S. of foreign nationals from six Muslim-majority countries.  Two Courts of Appeals affirmed preliminary injunctions barring enforcement of a number of the EO's provisions.  On June 26, 2017, the Supreme Court held that those injunctions should remain in place as to "respondents and those similarly situated." See Trump v. Int'l Refugee Assistance Project, 137 S. Ct. 2080, 2087 (2017) (per curiam).  It granted the Government's request for a stay only "to the extent the injunctions prevent enforcement . . . with respect to foreign nationals who lack any bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States."  Id.  The Supreme Court explained that, for entry into the United States based on family connections, a "bona fide relationship with a person" requires "the sort of relationship" enjoyed by Respondents – that is, "a close familial relationship." Id. at 2088.

Following the Supreme Court's order, the administration issued guidance that interpreted "close familial relationship" to bar grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins of persons in the U.S.  The administration's new guidance also excluded refugees who have a formal assurance from a refugee resettlement agency. 

The Respondents sought an injunction to block the administration's improper interpretation of the Supreme Court's order.  On Monday, July 10, Judge Watson ordered the government to allow in refugees formally working with a resettlement agency in the U.S.  His order also expanded the list of U.S. family relationships that refugees and visitors from six Muslim-majority countries can use to get into the country, including grandparents and grandchildren.  On Friday, July 14, the Trump administration went to the Supreme Court to try again to block these family members and women and children fleeing violence.