Travel Ban Takes Effect But Less Chaos Expected

WASHINGTON (AP) -
U.S. Customs and Immigration officers keep watch at the arrivals level at Los Angeles International Airport as the Supreme Court reinstates portions of President Donald Trump’s executive order targeting travelers from six predominantly Muslim countries,  Thursday. (Reuters/Mike Blake)

A scaled-back version of President Donald Trump’s travel ban took effect Thursday evening, stripped of provisions that brought protests and chaos at airports worldwide in January, yet still likely to generate a new round of court fights.

The new rules, the product of months of legal wrangling, aren’t so much an outright ban as a tightening of already-tough visa policies affecting citizens from six Muslim-majority countries. Refugees are covered, too.

Administration officials promised that implementation this time would be orderly. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Dan Hetlage said his agency expected “business as usual at our ports of entry,” with all valid visa holders still being able to travel.

Still, immigration and refugee advocates are vowing to challenge the new requirements and the administration has struggled to explain how they will make the United States safer.

Under the temporary rules, citizens of Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iran and Yemen who already have visas will be allowed into the United States. But people from those countries who want new visas will now have to prove a close family relationship or an existing relationship with an entity like a school or business in the U.S.

It’s unclear how significantly the new rules will affect travel. In most of the countries singled out, few people have the means for leisure travel. Those that do, already face intensive screenings before being issued visas.

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer met with customs officials and said he felt things would go smoothly.

“For tonight, I’m anticipating few issues because, I think, there’s better preparation,” he told reporters at Los Angeles International Airport on Thursday night. “The federal government here, I think, has taken steps to avoid the havoc that occurred the last time.”

Much of the confusion in January, when President Trump’s first ban took effect, resulted from travelers with previously approved visas being kept off flights or barred entry on arrival in the United States. Immigration officials were instructed Thursday not to block anyone with valid travel documents and otherwise eligible to visit the United States.

President Trump, who made a tough approach to immigration a cornerstone of his election campaign, issued a ban on travelers from the six countries, plus Iraq, shortly after taking office in January. His order also blocked refugees from any country.

President Trump said these were temporary measures needed to prevent terrorism until vetting procedures could be reviewed.

Lower courts blocked the initial ban and a second, revised Trump order intended to overcome legal hurdles was issued. The Supreme Court on Monday partially reinstated the revised ban but exempted travelers who could prove a “bona fide relationship” with a U.S. person or entity. The court offered only broad guidelines.

In guidance issued late Wednesday, the State Department said the personal relationships would include a parent, spouse, son, daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law or sibling already in the United States.

Business or professional links must be “formal, documented and formed in the ordinary course rather than for the purpose of evading” the ban. Journalists, students, workers or lecturers who have valid invitations or employment contracts in the U.S. would be exempt from the ban. The exemption does not apply to those who seek a relationship with an American business or educational institution purely for the purpose of avoiding the rules.

Refugees from any country will face similar requirements. But the U.S. has almost filled its quota of 50,000 refugees for the budget year ending in September and the new rules won’t apply to the few remaining slots. With the Supreme Court set to consider the overall ban in October, the rules could change again.

The travel ban may have the largest impact on Iranians. In 2015, the most recently available data, nearly 26,000 Iranians were allowed into the United States on visitor or tourist visas. Iranians made up the lion’s share of the roughly 65,000 foreigners from the six countries who visited with temporary, or nonimmigrant visas that year.