The meaning of âbona fide relationshipâ was not precisely explained, and the phrase has created much uncertainty for migrants and others seeking to travel to the United States from the six countries â Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen â singled out in President Trumpâs revised travel ban, issued in March. (An earlier version of the ban included Iraq.)
The Trump administration has now made the definition explicit.
According to a diplomatic cable obtained by The New York Times, âclose familyâ is âdefined as a parent (including parent-in-law), spouse, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, sibling, whether whole or half. This includes step relationships.â
But it went on to state that âclose familyâ does not include âgrandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-in-laws and sisters-in-law, fiancÃ©s and any other âextendedâ family members.â
It is not clear how the administration arrived at the new definitions. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security, defines âimmediate relativesâ as spouses, children under 21 and parents of adult citizens.
A bona fide relationship with a âU.S. entity,â according to the cable, âmust be formal, documented, and formed in the ordinary course, rather than for the purpose of evading the E.O.,â or executive order.
The new guidelines make clear that someone who has accepted a job offer from a company in the United States or an invitation to deliver a lecture at an American university may enter, but that a nonprofit group may not seek out citizens of the affected countries and count them as clients for the purpose of getting around the ban.
âAlso, a hotel reservation, whether or not paid, would not constitute a bona fide relationship with an entity in the United States,â the guidelines note.
Immigration rights advocates who had challenged the travel ban in court said the ruling this week meant the vast majority of people seeking to enter the United States to visit a relative, accept a job, attend a university or deliver a speech would still be able to do so.
But Omar Jadwat, the director of the American Civil Liberties Unionâs immigrantsâ rights project, said on Thursday the new guidelines troubled him, particularly as they could be read as creating arbitrary definitions of family relationships.
âInitial reports suggest that the government may try to unilaterally expand the scope of the ban â for example, by arbitrarily refusing to treat certain categories of familial relationships as âbona fide,â â he said. âThese reports are deeply concerning.â
If the United States immediately starts enforcing new rules, Mr. Jadwat said, âit means that everybody is going to be in the situation of kind of scrambling to understand whatever they put out, and work through the issues.â