In another setback for President Donald Trump, a federal judge in Hawaii has further weakened his already diluted travel ban by vastly expanding the list of family relationships with US citizens that visa applicants can use to get into the US.
The ruling is the latest piece of pushback in the fierce fight set off by the ban Trump first attempted in January. It will culminate with arguments in front of the US Supreme Court in October.
The current rules aren't so much an outright ban as a tightening of already-tough visa policies affecting citizens from six Muslim-majority countries: Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iran and Yemen.
People from those countries who already have visas will be allowed into the country. Only narrow categories of people, including those with relatives named in Thursday's ruling, will be considered for new visas.
US District Judge Derrick Watson yesterday ordered the government not to enforce the ban on grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins of people in the United States.
"Common sense, for instance, dictates that close family members be defined to include grandparents," Watson said in his ruling. "Indeed grandparents are the epitome of close family members."
Watson also ruled that the government may not exclude refugees who have formal assurance and promise of placement services from a resettlement agency in the US.
The US Supreme Court, which last month allowed a scaled- back version of the ban to go into effect before it hears the case in October, exempted visa applicants from the ban if they can prove a "bona fide" relationship with a US citizen or entity.
The Trump administration defined "bona fide" relationship as those who had a parent, spouse, fiance, son, daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law or sibling already in the US.
The case came back to Watson when the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that he had the authority to interpret the Supreme Court's order and block any violation of it. Watson's yesterday ruling broadened the definition of what counts as a "bona fide" relationship to include grandparents and the rest of the wider list of relatives.
Hawaii Attorney General Douglas S Chin, who represents the state as the plaintiff in the case said the court made clear "that the U.S. Government may not ignore the scope of the partial travel ban as it sees fit."
"Family members have been separated and real people have suffered enough," Chin said in a statement.
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