President Donald Trump's modified travel ban has been implemented with little immediate protest as immigration lawyers gathered at U.S. airports to aid travelers from six affected countries.
The U.S. activated the new rules Thursday evening, requiring visa applicants from six majority-Muslim nations to have a "bona fide" relationship with a family member or business in the U.S. to be admitted into the country.
Before the rollout, senior administration officials explained how consular officials should proceed with the visa applications for people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Anyone in transit to the U.S. with travel scheduled before July 6 will be allowed to enter. Those with travel booked after that date will be addressed "later," according to senior administration officials.
Previously scheduled visa application appointments will not be canceled, administration officials said, but all new applicants will have to prove their bona fide relationship to a family member or business in the U.S. in addition to passing traditional screening.
Acceptable close family relationships include a parent, spouse, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law or sibling who already is in the United States.
Relationships that do not meet the requirement include grandparent, grandchild, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, cousin, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, fiance or other extended family. The officials said these distinctions were based on those included in the Immigration and Naturalization Act.
First court suit
Late Thursday, the Trump administration added fiance to the acceptable list after Hawaii filed an emergency motion in federal court, asking a judge to clarify that the ban can't be enforced against relatives, including fiances, not mentioned in the administration's guidelines.
U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson ordered the Justice Department to respond by Monday and gave Hawaii until July 6 for a rebuttal.
"I think the Supreme Court actually laid it out very clearly," New York Immigration Coalition Director of Political Engagement Murad Awawdeh told VOA. "A bona fide relationship is anyone who has a relationship with anyone in the United States or an American entity. And for the department of state to come out with such a new version of what that word actually means, it is kind of disheartening."
He added that the Trump administration is trying to "redefine what family means."
Awawdeh spoke Thursday at an anti-travel ban protest of about 150 people in New York's Washington Square.
Also at the protest was Yemeni American Widad Hassan, who says that choosing between family and country is nothing new. Her sister-in-law and newborn nephew are in Yemen, while her brother is in the U.S., unable to reunite with his family.
"Do they leave to join their family in Yemen or do they stay here? So, that is pretty much how the ban has impacted us," said Hassan, adding that the battle is a recurring one. "It is just mentally and emotionally draining, especially when you have family members who are being directly impacted by it."
"Hey hey! Ho ho! Syrian refugees have got to go!" shouted an older white man, hoisting a black-and-white "Keep Syrians Out" poster outside a #NoMuslimBanEver Emergency Town Hall in New York.
Travel ban supporter Pauline Pujol told VOA, "I think Donald Trump is 100% correct. He is protecting the country. A president is supposed to protect the country; there is nothing racist about it. It's about security."
A 120-day ban on refugees and yearly cap of 50,000 total refugees coming to the United States also went into effect Thursday evening; however, any refugee who can prove a relationship to a family member in the U.S. may be allowed entry.
Senior administration officials said 49,009 refugees had been admitted to the U.S. in fiscal year 2017 as of Wednesday night, nearing the cap three-quarters of the way through the fiscal year that begins in October. But the cap is likely to be exceeded as additional refugees are accepted on the basis of family ties. Officials said about half of refugees admitted to the U.S. have family in the country.
The Supreme Court partially reinstated the president's executive order limiting travel after it was halted by two lower courts. The high court will hold its own hearing on the legal challenges in October.
Trump says the order is necessary to protect national security, with the entry freezes meant to give the government time to strengthen vetting procedures.