Less than an hour before the ban was slated to begin, an emergency motion was filed in federal court by the state of Hawaii, which contests the Trump administration's plan to exclude certain categories of foreign nationals that the state believes are allowed to enter the country under existing court rulings.
The test for foreign nationals under the Supreme Court's ruling is whether one has a "credible claim of bona fide relationship" with either an entity (like a school or a job) or a person living in the US (such as a spouse).
A hotel reservation, for example, will not constitute a bona fide relationship under the executive order, but an academic lecturer invited to speak in the US will be exempt from the travel ban.
If you can't sufficiently establish such a close relationship, you are banned for 90 days if you are from Libya, Syria, Iran, Somalia, Yemen and Sudan, and 120 days if you are a refugee from any country.
The new guidelines provide that applicants must prove a relationship with a parent, spouse, finacee, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law or sibling in the US in order to enter the country.
Other family members -- including grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, and any other "extended" family members will not be considered "close family" under the executive order.
For several hours on Thursday -- prior to the executive order going into effect -- administration officials had provided guidance that fiancees would not be considered "bona fide" relationships, but later reversed course, and fiancees are now exempt just like spouses.
The State Department criteria applies not only to visa applicants, but also to all refugees currently awaiting approval for admission to the US.
Senior administration officials further confirmed despite any ambiguity in the Supreme Court's decision, a refugee resettlement organization's "assurance" or relationship to a prospective refugee will not be considered sufficiently close or bona fide for protection under the administration's interpretation of the revised executive order.
Advocacy groups such as Amnesty International plan to send researchers to US airports, such as Dulles International Airport and John F. Kennedy Airport on Thursday, to monitor developments and observe implementation of the ban in case any disputes arise.
Who is exempt from the ban?
The following categories of travelers are excluded from the travel ban:
- US citizens
- Legal permanent residents (aka green card holders)
- Current visa holders
- Any visa applicant who was in the US as of June 26
- Dual nationals
- Anyone granted asylum
- Any refugee already admitted to the US (or cleared for travel by the State Department through July 6)
- Foreign nationals with "bona fide" family, educational or business tie to the US.
What about visa holders?
Importantly, visas that have already been approved will not be revoked, and senior administration officials confirmed on Thursday that previously scheduled visa application appointments will not be canceled.
The executive order also permits the issuance of a visa to anyone who would otherwise be excluded on a case-by-case basis at the discretion of DHS and the State Department.
Senior administration officials expressed confidence to reporters Thursday that the pandemonium seen at airports would not occur this time around and that consular officers and border agents are "well-versed" in how the process works.
"We expect business as usual," said one official. "We expect things to run smoothly -- our people are well-prepared for this."
Why is this happening?
The intent behind the executive order was hotly debated for the past several months.
On the campaign trail, then-candidate Trump called for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims
" entering the US.
But the text of the executive order
states that "additional scrutiny" is required for foreign nationals traveling from the six identified nations because "the conditions in these countries present heightened threats. Each of these countries is a state sponsor of terrorism, has been significantly compromised by terrorist organizations, or contains active conflict zones."
More lawsuits on the way?
The Trump administration's narrow reading of what constitutes a "bona fide" relationship has already elicited at least one challenge in court.
Late Thursday, Hawaii filed an emergency motion asking the federal district court judge who originally blocked implementation of the travel ban in March to "clarify as soon as possible that the Supreme Court meant what it said," and issue an order confirming that the court orders do not allow the Trump administration to exclude grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins of persons in the United States.
Experts say more legal battles are on the way, given the way the Trump administration has decided to interpret the Supreme Court's ruling.
"I predict more litigation as people challenge visa denials under these new instructions," said Cornell Law School Professor Stephen Yale-Loehr. "Why can a stepsister visit the United States but not a grandmother?"