US President Donald Trump. Picture: REUTERS
US President Donald Trump. Picture: REUTERS

A federal judge in Hawaii has exempted grandparents, grandchildren and other relatives of people in the US from the Trump administration’s travel ban targeting travelers from six majority-Muslim countries.

The decision, by Judge Derrick Watson on Thursday, was a victory for opponents of the ban, who say it singles out Muslims in violation of the US constitution.

The Trump administration insists the restrictions are necessary to keep out terrorists.

The US supreme court had allowed part of the ban to go into effect on June 29, putting an end, at least temporarily, to five months of skirmishes in the lower courts. Specifically, the court allowed a 90-day ban on visitors from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, and a 120-day ban on refugees, with exceptions for people with "close family relationships" in the US.

The Trump administration defined this to mean parents, spouses, children, sons- and daughters-in-law, siblings and step- and half-siblings. But Watson found that "the government’s narrowly defined list finds no support in the careful language of the supreme court or even in the immigration statutes on which the government relies.

"Common sense, for instance, dictates that close family members be defined to include grandparents," he wrote. "Indeed, grandparents are the epitome of close family members. The government’s definition excludes them. That simply cannot be." Watson ordered US homeland security and the state department not to enforce the ban on "grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins of persons in the US".

The judge also ruled that refugees who have assurances of a placement by an agency in the US should be exempt.

Douglas Chin, attorney-general for the state of Hawaii, which filed the lawsuit against the Trump administration, welcomed the ruling. "Today, the federal court makes clear that the US government may not ignore the scope of the partial travel ban as it sees fit," he said. "Family members have been separated and real people have suffered enough. Courts have found that this executive order has no basis in stopping terrorism and is just a pretext for illegal and unconstitutional discrimination."

The departments of homeland security, state and justice did not immediately respond to requests for comment early on Friday.

While the ban itself did not single out Muslims, judges in lower courts have cited Trump’s repeated statements during last year’s presidential race that he intended to ban Muslims from entering the US. His original measure, issued by executive order in January, triggered chaos at airports and was almost immediately blocked by the courts.


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