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US Supreme Court's Ruling on Travel Ban Raises Questions


A sign for International Arrivals is shown at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle, June 26, 2017.

A day after the U.S. Supreme Court gave the go-ahead to a narrow version of President Donald Trump’s executive order limiting travel, it remains unclear how it will be implemented.

The narrower version approved by the nation’s highest court allows the administration’s 90-day ban on travelers from six mostly Muslim countries to take effect, as well as a 120-day halt on all refugee admissions to the U.S.

However, the court also ruled the so-called travel ban could not be enforced to keep out "foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States."

With the order likely to go into effect later this week, 72 hours after it was handed down by the court in Washington, immigration lawyers are seeking information about what constitutes "a bona fide relationship" and who would make such decisions.

The Supreme Court defined such relationships as family connections for individuals, admittance to a U.S. school for students, and a job offer for workers. Immigration attorneys have said the court's language is not sufficiently specific.

Guidelines unclear

The human-rights group Amnesty International has sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the departments of Justice, Homeland Security and State, asking what instructions will be given to Customs and Border Patrol agents at airports and border crossings.

“We want to know what guidelines they’ll be providing CPB on dealing with individuals who may or may not fall into the undefined and still questionable parameters of what the Supreme Court says,” Justin Mazzola, an Amnesty International researcher, told VOA. The possibility that border agents will be deciding on travelers' applications for entry on an ad-hoc basis is "a scary thought," he said.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, known for his conservative judicial philosophy, wrote in a dissent to the majority travel-ban ruling that the current state of the ban would prove “unworkable.” Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch - the latter appointed by Trump - joined in Thomas' opinion.

“Today’s compromise will burden executive officials with the task of deciding – on peril of contempt – whether individuals from the six affected nations who wish to enter the United States have a sufficient connection to a person or entity in this country,” Thomas wrote.

DHS promises specific information

However, the Department of Homeland Security said in a public statement that implementation of the executive order would be clear, specific and transparent.

“The department will provide additional details on implementation after consultation with the Departments of Justice and State. The implementation of the executive order will be done professionally, with clear and sufficient public notice, particularly to potentially affected travelers, and in coordination with partners in the travel industry,” the DHS statement said.

Immigration lawyers and rights groups, many of whom camped out at airports offering legal help to immigrants and refugees after Trump's initial executive orders were signed, say they are preparing to do so again if their questions are not answered.

“There are a lot of questions on how this will be implemented – who gets to decide who has a bona fide relationship and at what point in the process is that determined,” Betsy Fisher, policy director at the International Refugee Assistance Project, told VOA.

The group said it will revise its “know your rights” brochures, first distributed when an earlier version of the travel order was implemented in late January, and will send representatives to airports to track how the order is being enforced.

“We’ll be responding again with volunteers to airports to make sure that this is implemented correctly and that individuals are not stopped with no reason or held indefinitely for no reason,” Fisher said. "And we’ll hope for the best.”

Aline Barros contributed to this report.

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