A limited version of President Donald Trump's executive order freezing refugee arrivals and travel from six majority-Muslim countries went into effect Thursday evening to a much more subdued reception in Minnesota than two earlier rollout attempts.
This week, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for the order's implementation — but only for those without a "bona fide relationship" to a person or organization in the United States. On Thursday, the government spelled out its definition of such a relationship. Spouses, siblings, children and parents of U.S. citizens will be able to travel, and late in the day, fiancés and fiancées were added to that list. But grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews are excluded.
The ban prompted several protests nationwide Thursday night, including one by about 30 people in front of the U.S. Courthouse in downtown Minneapolis.
Like its predecessors, the revised ban is also certain to face legal challenges. Late Thursday, Hawaii asked a court to clarify the ban's scope, saying the latest restrictions go further than the U.S. Supreme Court allowed. Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin said many of the people that the federal government aims to exclude are considered "close family" in Hawaii.
Local attorneys and others say most refugees and other travelers to Minnesota have close family ties and won't be affected by the travel suspension, which will last four months for refugees and 90 days for nationals of Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Iran and Yemen. Because the order does not affect those who secured visas by Thursday, the rollout was uneventful at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and other points of entry.
But the administration's relatively narrow definition of family ties means some bound for Minnesota will see their travel plans delayed, and it inspired vows from advocacy groups to challenge it in court.
The new rules are themselves the product of months of legal wrangling.
One week after taking office, Trump shut down travel from seven mostly Muslim countries, including Iraq, and blocked entry by all refugees, saying that a "pause" was necessary to evaluate the vetting of visitors from places that the government deemed dangerous.
Critics assailed that first order as a veiled attempt to make good on Trump's campaign promise to impose a "Muslim ban." After courts blocked it, Trump issued a modified order directed at six countries, not including Iraq. That order was blocked as well, with federal appeals courts ruling that it discriminated based on religion, in violation of the First Amendment, and exceeded the president's statutory authority.
The decision by the administration to revive and aggressively enforce another version of the president's travel ban is certain to keep the intense debate about America's borders going into the Supreme Court's fall term, when the justices are scheduled to decide the legal fate of Trump's order.
On Thursday, lawyers set up shop at major airports across the country to monitor flights and help travelers.
At least a dozen attorneys were volunteering at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, CBS reported. "We have an army of over 1,000 lawyers who have their back and are ready to go back out to JFK if that becomes necessary," said Camille Mackler, director of legal initiatives at the New York Immigration Coalition.
Attorneys at Los Angeles International Airport offered free legal aid and distributed copies of an eight-page travel advisory with information about the status of the new ban, as well as advice for travelers on interacting with customs officers. They were joined by a handful of activists holding signs that read, "No! Stop Trump/Pence."
Kara Lynum, who headed an effort to station attorneys at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to aid travelers during earlier versions of the ban, said she will camp out there Friday but probably won't have much to do. With valid visa holders allowed to enter the country regardless of nationality or family ties, she said, any arguments about implementation will take place at U.S. consulates overseas — and eventually in the U.S. courts.
Many in local immigrant communities found reassurance in the administration's new guidelines. Mounaf Alsamman, a Syrian-born Twin Cities physician, was relieved to learn that he and his elderly parents will still be able to host his sister on a visit from Kuwait in August.
"She was really concerned initially," Alsamman said. "This morning she said, 'Thank God we can come.' "
As he did with the original order in January and a revised version in March, Alsamman followed the news closely to glean the impact on his family, scattered around the world by Syria's civil war. A brother was resettled with his wife and four children this spring after the courts blocked the March version of the executive order. This third time around in the small local Syrian community, "I haven't heard very much complaining," he said.
Because an overwhelming majority of Minnesota refugee arrivals take place through a family reunification program, Twin Cities resettlement officials do not expect the order to have a major impact. Catholic Charities, a local resettlement agency, has about 100 refugees awaiting final travel confirmation to fly to Minnesota. Under the government's definition, all or almost all have a "bona fide" relationship, said June Jordan, the head of resettlement.
At Arrive Ministries, another resettlement agency, Executive Director Bob Oehrig said none of the refugees the nonprofit is preparing to resettle in coming weeks should be affected by the ban. But because of the more narrow definition of family ties, some family reunification cases probably will be delayed in the next four months, and uncertainty about the implementation lingers, he said. Agencies will argue that their sponsorship of arriving refugees in itself represents a "bona fide relationship" — an argument unlikely to fly with the administration.
For some local residents, Thursday's implementation guidelines did bring bad news, and confusion. Shukri Abdul, a St. Paul single mother of five, was preparing to fly to Malaysia for her Somali fiancé's visa interview when she found out he probably wouldn't be eligible because the guidelines didn't put fiancés on the "bona fide relationship" list.
Abdul and her fiancé were childhood friends in Mogadishu, separated as their families fled the country's civil war. They reconnected on Facebook several years ago and spent time together in Kuala Lumpur last year.
She applied for a fiancé visa for him, but the application stalled after the January order. The visa grants visiting fiancés 90 days before they marry or leave the country — enough time, Abdul said, for them to decide if they can be a family.
"This is a big step, with five kids," said Abdul, a U.S. citizen who is a medical interpreter. "I don't know if I should get married in Malaysia or wait for this ban to blow over."
Suud Olat, a Somali interpreter and community leader in the Twin Cities, said for many, the exemption for close relatives is only somewhat reassuring. After years in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, he was resettled in Nashville five years ago. He did not have any family ties in the U.S. He said he feels bad for refugees, particularly some with medical needs or in precarious safety situations, awaiting resettlement without relatives here.
"America used to be a role model when it came to refugees," he said. "Now that's coming to a close."
The Associated Press, New York Times, Bloomberg News and Star Tribune staff writer Karen Zamora contributed to this report.