WASHINGTON, U.S. - Following a federal court ruling in the controversial case of President Trump’s travel ban, that came as a rebuke to the government's attempt to limit the close family members allowed in the U.S., the Trump administration is now seeking to challenge the ruling.
The ruling that came as a victory for challengers of the Trump administration's travel ban saw the partial halt of the ban lifted on certain foreign nationals from six predominantly Muslim countries on a nationwide basis.
Thursday's decision in essence means that "grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins of persons in the United States" will now count as sufficiently close family relationships to gain entry into the country.
However, on Friday, the Trump administration said it is seeking to close a legal window opened for tens of thousands of refugees to enter the United States.
It said it would appeal the federal judge's order directly to the Supreme Court.
Last month, the Supreme Court ruled that the administration could employ the travel ban against foreign nationals who lack any "bona fide" relationship to a person or entity in the U.S. - however, the state of Hawaii said the administration had wrongfully interpreted that to exclude close family, such as grandparents.
U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson had ordered the government to allow in refugees formally working with a resettlement agency in the United States. His order also vastly 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 night, in its appeal, the Justice Department said Watson's interpretation of the Supreme Court's ruling on what family relationships qualify refugees and visitors from the six Muslim-majority countries to enter the U.S. "empties the court's decision of meaning, as it encompasses not just 'close' family members, but virtually all family members. Treating all of these relationships as 'close familial relationship(s)' reads the term 'close' out of the Court's decision."
The Justice Department said that only the Supreme Court can decide these issues surrounding the travel ban.
It said, “Only this Court can definitively settle whether the government's reasonable implementation is consistent with this Court's stay.”
Now, the legal fight is expected to culminate with arguments before the nation's high court in October.
Commenting on the ruling, Becca Heller, director of the International Refugee Assistance Project, a resettlement agency has said that Watson's ruling could help more than 24,000 refugees already vetted and approved by the United States but barred by the 120-day freeze on refugee admissions.
Heller noted, "Many of them had already sold all of their belongings to start their new lives in safety. This decision gives back hope to so many who would otherwise be stranded indefinitely."
The administration had cited a need to review its vetting process to ensure national security to cap refugee admissions at 50,000 for the 12-month period ending September 30, a limit that was reached this week.
Resettlement agencies have pointed out that the federal budget can accommodate up to 75,000 refugees, however admissions have slowed under Trump, and the government could hold them to a trickle.
According to Melanie Nezer, spokeswoman for HIAS, a resettlement agency, “This is good news for refugees, but there's a lot of uncertainty. It's really going to depend on how the administration reacts to this."
Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Sessions had said the administration would ask the Supreme Court to weigh in, bypassing the San Francisco-based 9th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals, which has ruled against it in the case.
Sessions said, “Once again, we are faced with a situation in which a single federal district court has undertaken by a nationwide injunction to micromanage decisions of the co-equal executive branch related to our national security. By this decision, the district court has improperly substituted its policy preferences for the national security judgments of the executive branch in a time of grave threats."
The Trump administration took a first step by filing a notice of appeal to the 9th Circuit, allowing it to use a rule to petition the high court directly.
While the Supreme Court has no timetable to act, the administration is seeking quick action to clarify the court's June opinion.
The countries that are affected by the travel ban include Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia.