By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court in California on Monday let President Donald Trump's latest travel ban go partially into effect, ruling the government can bar entry of people from six Muslim-majority countries with no connections to the United States.
A three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals partially granted a Trump administration request to block at least temporarily a judge's ruling that had put the new ban on hold. Trump's ban was announced on Sept. 24 and replaced two previous versions that had been impeded by federal courts.
The action means the ban will apply to people from Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Chad who do not have connections to the United States.
Those connections are defined as family relationships and "formal, documented" relationships with U.S.-based entities such as universities and resettlement agencies. Those with family relationships that would allow entry include grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins of people in the United States.
"We are reviewing the court's order and the government will begin enforcing the travel proclamation consistent with the partial stay. We believe that the proclamation should be allowed to take effect in its entirety," Justice Department spokeswoman Lauren Ehrsam said.
The state of Hawaii, which sued to block the restrictions, argued that federal immigration law did not give Trump the authority to impose them on six of those countries. The lawsuit did not challenge restrictions toward people from the two other countries listed in Trump's ban, North Korea and Venezuela.
U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson in Honolulu ruled last month that Hawaii was likely to succeed with its argument.
Hawaii Attorney General Douglas Chin said the court's decision tracked what the Supreme Court said in June when it partially revived Trump's second travel ban, which has now expired.
"I'm pleased that family ties to the U.S., including grandparents, will be respected," Chin added.
Separately on Monday, a group of refugee organizations and individuals filed a lawsuit in Seattle federal court challenging Trump's decision to suspend entry of refugees from 11 countries, nine of which are majority Muslim, for at least 90 days.
Trump issued his first travel ban targeting several Muslim-majority countries in January, just a week after he took office, and then issued a revised one after the first was blocked by the courts. The second one expired in September after a long court fight and was replaced with another revised version.
Trump has said the travel ban is needed to protect the United States from terrorism by Muslim militants. As a candidate, Trump had promised "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States."
Critics of the travel ban in its various iterations call it a "Muslim ban" that violates the U.S. Constitution by discriminating on the basis of religion.
The 9th Circuit is due to hear oral arguments in the case on Dec. 6. In a parallel case from Maryland, a judge also ruled against the Trump administration and partially blocked the ban from going into effect.
An appeal in the Maryland case is being heard on Dec. 8 by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia. The Maryland case was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents several advocacy groups, including the International Refugee Assistance Project.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley in Washington; Additional reporting by Dan Levine in San Francisco; Editing by Will Dunham and Tom Brown)