Ninth Circuit on Grandma Ban: “What Universe Does That Come From?”

By Gabe Cahn,

Litigation against the refugee ban continued this week, just over a month ahead of the October 10 arguments scheduled before the United States Supreme Court.

On Monday, August 28, a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit gathered in Seattle to hear oral arguments for the Trump administration’s appeal of U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson’s modified injunction against the executive order banning refugees and individuals from six Muslim majority countries.

According to the U.S. District Court ruling issued on July 13, refugees with assurances from U.S.-based resettlement agencies are considered to have “bona fide” relationships with a U.S. entity as outlined in the Supreme Court order from June 26. The ruling also stated that grandmothers, grandchildren and other close family members count as “close familial relationships.”

On July 19, the Supreme Court responded to the government’s initial appeal of the district court decision and maintained Judge Watson’s expansion of who qualifies as “bona fide” family ties but stayed the exemption for refugees with assurances from U.S.-based resettlement agencies, pending a resolution at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Fast forward to the courtroom in Seattle this week, where Justice Department lawyer Hashim Mooppan argued that grandmothers should in fact be included in the ban, and that refugees have no connection to the U.S. resettlement agency that agrees to resettle them.

Seemingly baffled by the government’s position that grandparents or uncles or aunts do not have a close familial relationship to a child in the U.S., Judge Ronald M. Gould asked, “Like what universe does that come from?”

Judge Richard A. Paez, who joined Judge Gould and Judge Michael Daly Hawkins for the hearing, also expressed skepticism about the notion that refugee resettlement agencies, like HIAS, do not have a legitimate relationship with the refugees they agree to resettle.

“They’re not just some random person out there,” Paez said.

Colleen Roh Sinzdak argued on behalf of the State of Hawaii, which is challenging the ban in the litigation parallel to HIAS and IRAP, with both cases headed for the Supreme Court this fall.

To date, 51,240 refugees have been resettled in the United States this fiscal year, which began on October 1, 2016.

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