WASHINGTON: The US Supreme Court on Monday partially reinstated Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban targeting citizens from six predominantly Muslim countries, prompting the president to claim a victory for national security.
The court said it would examine the case in full in October but said the ban could now be enforced for travelers from the targeted countries “who lack any bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”
The court tempered its ruling by saying the ban could not be implemented for now against people who have personal links to the US, citing the examples of foreign nationals wishing to visit family or students accepted to attend university.
But the Supreme Court’s decision nonetheless marks a win for the Republican leader, who has insisted the ban is necessary for national security, despite criticism that it singles out Muslims in violation of the US constitution.
Trump had suffered a series of judicial defeats over the ban, with two federal appeals courts maintaining injunctions on it by arguing that his executive order discriminated against travelers based on their nationality.
Reacting to Monday’s ruling, Trump said he felt vindicated by what he called “a clear victory for our national security.”
“It allows the travel suspension for the six terror-prone countries and the refugee suspension to become largely effective,” he said in a statement.
“As president, I cannot allow people into our country who want to do us harm.”
But opponents welcomed the fact that the court had tempered the reach of the ban, as well as the prospect of the case being heard in the fall.
David Cole, national legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the ruling’s impact would be limited and the real crunch would come in October.
The judges “essentially adopted a middle course” between the government’s request to uphold Trump’s order and the ACLU’s appeals to stay the ban, he told AFP.
“The court went out of its way to not tip its hand as to how it will rule on the ultimate issue, which is whether the president has the power to do this.”
The New York Immigration Coalition, another fierce opponent, said the ruling created more confusion by referring to ‘bona fide relationship’ which “agencies and individuals will struggle to make sense of.”
Trump’s revised measure, announced in March, seeks to bar from US entry travelers from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days, as well as suspend the entry of refugees for 120 days.
The original measure, issued by executive order in January and almost immediately blocked by the courts, also included Iraq and an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees.
Earlier this month, Trump said in a presidential memorandum that the travel ban could be expected to go into effect within 72 hours of relevant court rulings.
But rights groups said they did not expect any chaos at airports, as was seen when the first executive order was put in place.
In an ruling earlier this month, the three justices of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said that “immigration, even for the president, is not a one-person show.”
The Supreme Court narrowed the scope of the injunctions on the ban, saying the government could enforce its measure against “foreign nationals unconnected to the United States” without causing injury to the parties who filed suit.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the administration was confident that it would prevail when the nation’s top judges hear the case in full.
“Groups like ISIS (the Islamic State group) and Al-Qaeda seek to sow chaos and destruction in our country, and often operate from war-torn and failed countries,” he said.
“It is crucial that we properly vet those seeking to come to America from these locations, and failing to do so puts us all in danger.”
The countries targeted were on a list drawn up by Barack Obama’s government of places whose authorities had very poor data on their own citizens, making it difficult to vet the identities of visa applicants.
While the ban itself did not single out Muslims, judges in lower courts had cited Trump’s repeated statements during last year’s presidential race that he intended to ban Muslims from entering the United States.
After the initial legal setback for the ban, the White House slightly revised the order to try to address concerns raised in the courts, but the second measure also was shot down.
Even without the ban in place, arrivals from the six countries has dropped sharply, in part due to the “extreme vetting” approach of US authorities, toughening their scrutiny of visa applicants.
Arrivals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen were down by nearly half in March and April from a year ago — 6,372 for the two months compared to 12,100 in 2016, according to recent official data. AFP