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Judge in Hawaii rules grandparents are exempt from Trump travel ban

People participate in a New York rally in June to protest the separation of families under the Trump administration’s travel ban. (Alba Vigaray/European Pressphoto Agency)

A federal judge in Hawaii has ruled that grandparents and other relatives should be exempt from the enforcement of President Trump’s travel ban, which bars people from six Muslim-majority countries.

U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson ruled Thursday night that the federal government’s list of family relatives eligible to bypass the travel ban should be expanded to include grandparents, grandchildren, uncles, aunts and other relatives. Watson also ordered exemptions for refugees who have been given formal assurance from agencies placing them in the United States.

In Watson’s ruling, he said the government’s definition of what constitutes close family “represents the antithesis of common sense.”

“Common sense, for instance, dictates that close family members be defined to include grandparents,” Watson wrote. “Indeed, grandparents are the epitome of close family members. The Government’s definition excludes them. That simply cannot be.”

The order delivered another legal hit to the president’s travel ban and a “sweeping victory” for those against it, as Neal Katyal, a lawyer for those challenging the measure, wrote. The ruling from Watson, a judge who has frequently been criticized by Trump and his administration for his unfavorable orders, marked yet another successful attempt by Hawaii to challenge the administration’s executive order.

Judge rejects Hawaii bid to exempt grandparents from Trump’s travel ban

The Supreme Court ruled late last month that the government could begin enforcing the travel restrictions, but not on people with “a credible claim of a bona fide relationship” with a person or entity in the United States.

The Supreme Court decided to allow a limited version of President Trump’s travel ban to be implemented, and will hold a hearing on the case in the fall. (Video: Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post, Photo: Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

The Trump administration then decided to make exceptions for spouses, parents, parents-in-law, children, sons-in-law and daughters-in-law, fiances and siblings of those already in the country. However, they barred grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law.

The government rolled out the measure on June 29, affecting travelers from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. As part of the measure, officials could also block refugees with a formal assurance from a resettlement agency.

Hawaii had asked Watson to rule on the federal government’s interpretation of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Trump’s executive order, arguing that the list of exemptions to the travel ban was too narrow.

In his ruling, Watson wrote that modifying the scope of the ban is “necessary to preserve the status quo” in regard to the government’s definition of “close familial relationship.” The government’s use of specific, family-based visa restrictions “constitutes cherry-picking,” and contradicts the Supreme Court’s decision late last month, Watson wrote.

Analysis | Jeff Sessions doesn’t think a judge in Hawaii — a.k.a. ‘an island in the Pacific’ — should overrule Trump

Watson also ordered exemptions for refugees who are members of the Lautenberg program, which allows certain nationals of the former Soviet Union and other countries with “close family in the United States” to apply for refugee status. Refugees through this program were previously not exempt from the ban because the program includes grandparents and grandchildren as “close family,” according to Watson’s ruling.

He also argued a refugee’s assurance from an agency satisfies the Supreme Court’s “bona fide” relationship requirement because of the formal, binding nature of the contract.

“Bona fide does not get any more bona fide than that,” Watson wrote.

As part of his executive order, Trump set a 50,000-person cap on refugee admissions, which the United States already surpassed on Wednesday.

Earlier this month, Watson denied a similar request to curtail enforcement and clarify who is exempt from the ban, saying that he would not “usurp the prerogative of the Supreme Court.” But late Thursday night, he ruled that this time around, the plaintiffs had met their burden of establishing why legal relief was necessary.

Read the judge’s ruling

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