Federal Travel Ban


Trump Administration Actions Limiting Noncitizen Travel to the U.S. and Courts


President Donald J. Trump attempted to bar the entry of foreign visitors from certain countries that had sponsored acts of international terrorism on three separate occasions in 2017.  The U.S. Supreme Court ruling issued on June 26, 2018 upheld the third version of the travel ban.

The president also passed a series of executive orders in 2018 and 2019 that impacted the U.S. refugee program. The first executive order that announced the travel ban also sought a temporary halt to the refugee program to review security procedures, and created new screening procedures on Jan. 29, 2018. The Trump administration reduced the ceiling for refugees resettled in the United States to 45,000 in FY18, the lowest since the program was created in 1980. Actual arrivals for the first quarter of FY18 were down to 6,500. On September 17, 2019 the Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions capped the number of refugee admissions at 30,000 for FY2019.

A brief chronological review of the executive orders and litigation is described below.

Executive Orders

  • Trump issued the first executive order—Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States—and enjoined by the 9th circuit on Feb. 9, 2017.
  • A revised executive order was issued March 6, and enjoined on March 15, 2017.
  • On July 19, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the second executive order to bar visitors who lack a “credible claim to a bonafide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”  
  • The president issued a Sept. 24 proclamation which was enjoined on Oct. 17 and was later allowed to go into effect by the Supreme Court on Dec. 4. 
  • On Jan. 19, 2018, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear challenges to the latest version of the travel ban in April.
  • On April 25, 2018 the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the challenge to the travel ban.
  • On June 26, 2018 the Supreme Court upholds President Trump’s travel ban.

The first executive order issued by the president lowered the number of refugees to be admitted into the United States in 2017 to 50,000, suspended the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days, suspended the entry of Syrian refugees indefinitely, and suspended entry from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. The second order, like the first, suspended entry for 90 days for nationals from countries that have sponsored acts of international terrorism, but removed Iraq from the list of countries, leaving Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Lawful permanent residents and current nonimmigrant visa holders were exempted from the bar. The second order applied to new visa applicants and permitted the U.S. State Department to grant waivers on a case-by-case basis.

The second executive order was scheduled to take effect March 16, 2017, but the sections on the travel ban and refugee program suspension were enjoined. See the Hawaii and Maryland rulings. The administration then filed an appeal on March 30, 2017.  

On June 26, 2017, the Supreme Court announced that it would allow the president to proceed with a limited version of the second executive order, while deciding to hear arguments in October and allowing the order to ban travelers from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen if the visitors lacked a “credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.” The administration then released a set of guidelines detailing who exactly qualifies as having a strong enough connection to the country. Travelers from affected countries can come to the U.S. to visit spouses, parents, children, siblings or sons- and daughters-in-law, officials said. But it excludes visiting cousins, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces or nephews.

On July 13, a U.S. District Judge in Hawaii ruled that a “bonafide relationship” could be expanded to include grandparents and other relatives, which the Supreme Court upheld on July 19. After a lower court ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that declared that refugees working with a resettlement agency would be considered to have established an approved “bonafide relationship” with a contact in the U.S., the Supreme Court blocked this decision on Sept. 12, 2017.

The third amendment to the travel ban was on Sept. 24, 2017 in the form of a presidential proclamation, which served as a third version of the travel ban, on refugee admissions and travel restrictions for nationals from selected countries. The revised ban included citizens from Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. It also included some government officials from Venezuela. On Dec. 4, the U.S. Supreme Court announced a temporary stay of the injunctions in the Fourth and Ninth Circuit (Hawaii and Maryland) court cases, allowing the 3rd version of the travel ban to go into effect. 

The Supreme Court then announced on Jan. 19, 2018 that it would rule on the president’s third revision to the ban, and hear the Hawaii and Maryland appeals in April. On June 26, the court upheld the ban in a 5-4 decision and ruled that the president’s power to secure the country’s borders was not undermined by his incendiary statements about Muslims seeking entry into the United States.

On Jan. 29, 2018, the Trump administration announced the implementation of new screening procedures for refugees of certain “high-risk” countries following a 90-day review period during which refugee admissions from these countries were halted. The countries reportedly affected by the new screening procedures include: Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. The enhanced security measures include more in-depth interviews with refugee applicants, as well as an expanded exploration of refugee backgrounds and claim verification. 

Refugee admissions have declined dramatically under the Trump administration. The Trump administration set the refugee admission limit for FY18 to 45,000, and 30,000 in FY19. See NCSL’s summary here.

Prepared by Ishanee Chanda, Staff Assistant, Immigrant Policy Project