US federal judge weakens Trump travel ban

Washington (AFP) –


A Hawaii judge has dealt a fresh setback to President Donald Trump's ban on travelers from six mainly-Muslim countries and refugees, saying it unfairly excludes the grandparents and grandchildren of people living in the United States.

The decision by Federal Judge Derrick Watson late Thursday did not end the travel ban, which came into effect on June 29 after the administration won a partial victory in the Supreme Court, capping months of legal wrangling.

But it expanded the exceptions to the ban, which the administration insists is necessary to keep violent extremists out of the country.

The Supreme Court's ruling allowed a 90-day ban on visitors from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, and a 120-day ban on refugees, with exceptions for people with "bona fide" relationships to people or entities in the United States.

The Trump administration defined that to be parents, spouses, children, sons- and daughters-in-law, siblings and step- or half-siblings.

- 'Common sense' -

Watson however ordered the exception list be expanded to include grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins of people in the United States.

He said the government's "narrowly defined list finds no support in the careful language of the Supreme Court or even in the immigration statutes on which the government relies."

"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 judge also ruled that refugees who have assurances of a placement by an agency in the United States should also be exempt.

It was not known if the White House would contest the ruling, as it did for previous court challenges to the ban.

Government agencies involved in implementing the ban, including the State Department, Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security, had no comment as of midday Friday.

White House Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert told journalists that he has "concerns" with the ruling, based on initial reports.

"It seemed to be fairly broad and something that would trouble me if it was as broad as reported," he said.

"We'll have to go back and have the attorneys read it, interpret it further, and decide whether this is another productive or unproductive step in this saga as we try to secure our country."

The original ban, announced days after Trump became president on January 20, was successfully challenged in lower courts on the grounds that it overstepped Trump's presidential authority and that it discriminated against Muslims in violation of the US constitution. A revised version also did not pass legal muster.

Judges in lower courts had cited Trump's repeated statements during the presidential campaign that he intended to ban Muslims from entering the United States.

- 'Real people have suffered enough' -

Douglas Chin, attorney general for the state of Hawaii, which filed the lawsuit against the Trump administration, welcomed the Thursday ruling.

"The federal court today makes clear that the US government may not ignore the scope of the partial travel ban as it sees fit," said Chin.

"Family members have been separated and real people have suffered enough. Courts have found that this Executive Order has no basis in stopping terrorism and is just a pretext for illegal and unconstitutional discrimination."