A federal judge in Hawaii ordered the Trump administration on Thursday to allow grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles and other relatives of people in the U.S. to circumvent the travel ban policy, dealing a temporary blow to one of the president’s signature initiatives.
In an order issued Thursday evening local time in Honolulu, Judge Derrick Watson also prohibited the administration from blocking refugees with a commitment from a resettlement agency in the U.S., a move that could revive the flow of refugee admissions this year.
The decision was a victory for opponents of the travel ban, who hoped to broaden the universe of people who could bypass the president’s policy, which temporarily bars travelers from six majority-Muslim nations and suspends the refugee resettlement program.
The Supreme Court issued an order on June 26 that allowed the embattled measure to go into effect, but included the caveat that affected travelers with “bona fide” ties to a person or entity in the U.S. should not be subject to the ban.
While the high court offered some guidance, it didn’t specifically list the categories of people or entities who might qualify as “bona fide.” When the Trump administration implemented the policy with a narrow definition that excluded grandparents and grandchildren, among others, advocates moved to take legal action.
In the realm of refugee resettlement, the administration stood by the contention that a connection to a resettlement agency alone would not meet the criteria to avoid the ban.
Judge Watson disagreed with those interpretations, however, and said the government’s guidance contradicted the Supreme Court’s order.
“Common sense, for instance, dictates that close family members be defined to include grandparents,” he wrote. “Indeed, grandparents are the epitome of close family members. The Government’s definition excludes them. That simply cannot be.”
The federal judge added that a refugee with a commitment from a resettlement agency met the standard for a “bona fide” relationship spelled out in the Supreme Court order.
“It is formal, it is a documented contract, it is binding, it triggers responsibilities and obligations, including compensation, it is issued specific to an individual refugee only when that refugee has been approved for entry by the Department of Homeland Security, and it is issued in the ordinary course, and historically has been for decades,” he wrote.
“Bona fide does not get any more bona fide than that.”
Neither the State Department nor Homeland Security Department immediately responded to a request for comment.
On Twitter, an attorney for the plaintiffs, the state of Hawaii and a local imam, celebrated the momentary legal win, which could be met with appeals by the federal government.
“Sweeping victory in #hawaiivstrump just now,” wrote Neal Katyal, going on to quote the order. “Court: ‘The government’s definition represents the antithesis of common sense.’”