Agencies Send Employees Guidance on Travel Ban Implementation

Officials promise "business as usual."

Federal agencies provided guidance to employees as they prepared to implement President Trump’s travel ban, just days after receiving clearance from the Supreme Court to move forward with some sections of the controversial executive order.

The Homeland Security Department said Thursday it had sent guidance to Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services employees. Trump administration officials said interagency collaboration has been a priority since the Tuesday court decision partially lifted the block on implementing the order. Officials emphasized they do not expect any significant disruptions when the policy goes into effect at 8 p.m. on Thursday evening.

“It will be business as usual for us,” a senior DHS official told reporters. “We expect things to run smoothly, and our people are well-prepared for this and they will handle the entry of people with visas professionally, respectfully and responsibly, as they have always done, with an eye toward ensuring that the country is protected from persons looking to travel here to do harm.”

The USCIS guidance focused on the 120-day refugee ban and its various exceptions, while CBP will add the various bans to its domestic screening responsibilities. Both workforces will be “well-versed in how the EO will be implemented,” the DHS official said.

One point of ambiguity in the Supreme Court ruling resulted from its allowance of citizens from six banned countries and refugees throughout the globe to enter the United States if they have a “bona fide relationship with a person or entity” in the United States. (The banned countries include Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Iran and Yemen.) The administration said it would define a "bona fide relationship" as one with parents, spouses, children, adult sons or daughters, sons and daughters-in-law and siblings. 

A State Department official also said its employees have been trained to implement the order. The official explained the department would not cancel previously scheduled visa application appointments, and encouraged visa seekers to go to their interviews as planned.

“Our consular officers have then been given detailed instructions to make case-by-case determinations on whether individuals would qualify for visas under the new guidance,” the official said.

Consular officers will first conduct their normal qualification assessment before determining applicants’ eligibility under the new guidance, as well as standard security and screening vetting.

One senior administration official praised the process State, DHS and the Justice Department have engaged in saying it would lead to a smooth rollout Thursday evening. Trump signed a presidential memorandum earlier this month giving agencies 72 hours to prepare for implementation of the order in case the block was ever lifted.

“I’d like to commend the entire interagency for their hard work and collaboration since the ruling,” the official said. “This was an organized and deliberate process, and implementation will be done professionally and expeditiously by all the agencies involved.”

Agencies engaged in a chaotic implementation process in January when agency leaders were caught off guard and employees lacked clear guidance on how to carry out the initial order. Both that and the subsequent March orders were quickly blocked by federal judges who said they were unconstitutional.

Administration officials promised further interagency collaboration going forward, especially as they look to put into place Trump’s promised “enhanced vetting measures.” Those policies, the officials said, would move forward “in tandem” with the travel ban implementation. The Justice Department, meanwhile, said it is preparing to make its arguments before the Supreme Court on the full executive order in October.