A view of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

On Thursday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit affirmed a lower court ruling that found the Trump administration had construed the Supreme Court’s direction on the Muslim travel ban too narrowly. The Supreme Court said the ban “may not be enforced against foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.” Under President Trump’s definition, extended family members including grandparents would not be deemed to have a “bona fide” relationship and therefore would still be subject to the ban.

The 9th Circuit found:

The Government unreasonably interprets the Supreme Court’s reference to “close familial relationship[s].” . . . From this explanation, it is clear that the Supreme Court’s use of “close familial relationship[s]” meant that the Court wanted to exclude individuals who have no connection with the United States or have remote familial relationships that would not qualify as “bona fide.” The Government does not meaningfully argue how grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins of persons in the United States can be considered to have “no connection” to or “lack any bona fide relationship” with persons in the United States. Nor does the Government explain how its proposed scope of exclusion would avoid the infliction of concrete hardships on such individuals’ family members in the United States. Stated simply, the Government does not offer a persuasive explanation for why a mother-in-law is clearly a bona fide relationship, in the Supreme Court’s prior reasoning, but a grandparent, grandchild, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, or cousin is not.

The 9th Circuit gave the back of the hand to the argument that the Trump administration could borrow a definition from another section of the immigration statute to exclude grandmothers. The Supreme Court had used mothers-in-law as an example of a close familial relationship it wanted to protect. The 9th Circuit judges wrote: “Plaintiffs correctly point out that the familial relationships the Government seeks to bar from entry are within the same ‘degree of kinship’ as a mother-in-law.” It’s hard to make a case that grandmothers would not qualify. It does not appear that the government even made a good-faith effort to apply the Supreme Court’s direction.

The Supreme Court on June 26 decided to allow a limited version of President Trump's travel ban to be implemented. The court will also hold a hearing on the case in the fall. (Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

On one level, it’s shocking that a Republican administration that is supposed to be a defender of “family values” would take such a miserly position. But, of course, family values are of little consequence to an administration that is more than willing to repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, auguring for the breakup of intimate family relations (e.g., one sibling gets deported but American-born siblings remain).

The 9th Circuit also looked at the administration’s argument that a refugee with a formal assurance of settlement lacks a bona fide relationship with some entity or individual in the United States. The court set out the laborious screening process refugees undertake (making a mockery of the notion these people are a security threat) and noted that after all those steps are completed the refugee gets a sponsorship assurance “from one of nine private non-profit organizations, known as resettlement agencies.” The 9th Circuit held: “The Government contends that a formal assurance does not create a bona fide relationship between a resettlement agency and a refugee, and stresses that ‘[t]he assurance is not an agreement between the resettlement agency and the refugee; rather, it is an agreement between the agency and the federal government.’ But the Supreme Court’s stay decision specifies that a qualifying relationship is one that is ‘formal, documented, and formed in the ordinary course, rather than for the purpose of evading [the Executive Order].”'”

Again, one cannot help but come away with the impression that the government is throwing up every half-baked idea it can find to limit the number of people entering the country, regardless of the national security risk or the hardship its action inflicts. The Trump administration is plainly reasoning backward — deny as many people as possible admittance and then think up a reason to justify its position.

In its fixation with keeping as many immigrants out of the United States as possible, the Trump administration cannot claim to merely be following the dictates of the law. (Gosh it’s out of our hands — “Dreamers” and grandmas have to go!) It is making up rules willy-nilly so as to show its rabid xenophobic base it is adhering to its promise of racial and ethnic exclusion. It’s hard to believe seasoned career Justice Department lawyers agree with these arguments. In its oversight hearings Congress should start grilling Attorney General Jeff Sessions as to how he comes up with his cockamamie legal arguments and whether political appointees are running roughshod over career DOJ lawyers.