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Trump takes yet another court loss on the travel ban

This time, it’s about refugees.

Trump NurPhoto / Cheriss May via Getty Images

On Thursday, for the fourth time, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the Trump administration on the constitutionality of its efforts to block people from several majority-Muslim countries and refugees from entering the United States.

This time, the ruling could allow resettlement of refugees by US-based charitable organizations to resume after a two-month near-complete hiatus.

Given how complicated resettlement is, however, it’s not clear how long it will take the government to fully ramp up refugee admissions again. For some refugees, it may be too late: Their medical or criminal background checks may have expired while they were waiting for the ban to be lifted.

A Supreme Court ruling in June — issued as a temporary order before the court takes up the merits of the “travel ban” in October — partially overturned the Ninth Circuit’s earlier ruling that the travel ban shouldn’t go into effect at all while courts figured out if it was constitutional.

Since then, the Trump administration has been able to implement a 90-day ban on anyone entering from Iran, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Somalia or Yemen, and a 120-day ban on any refugee resettling in the US, who doesn’t have a “bona fide relationship” to the United States.

But the administration’s attempt to implement that order has been barely more successful than its attempt to implement the initial ban. It was prevented from excluding grandparents and cousins of US citizens from entering, on the grounds that they weren’t “close family relationships,” by a Hawaii judge’s ruling in June.

The Hawaii judge also attempted to bar the Trump administration from excluding refugees from the US who had been matched with resettlement agencies in particular American communities. The Supreme Court stepped in and kept that part of the Hawaii ruling from going into effect, waiting to see what the Ninth Circuit would say instead.

Unsurprisingly, given how skeptical the Ninth Circuit has been of the travel ban throughout this whole process, the court found Thursday night that the Hawaii judge was correct, and that banning refugees with assurances from resettlement organizations was a violation of the government’s requirement to honor “bona fide relationships” just like banning grandparents was.

The Ninth Circuit’s ruling gives the Trump administration five days before its ruling goes into effect. The administration might ask the Supreme Court to rule on this (yet again), but with the oral argument on the original travel-ban case coming up — and with the fiscal year (which is how the government regulates refugee resettlement) drawing to a close at the end of the month, anyway — the government might not fight it.

For refugee resettlement organizations, this is just another twist in what they describe as an “emotional rollercoaster” for refugees, staff, and the American communities waiting to welcome refugees whose arrival keeps getting delayed or canceled. This is now the third time that they’ve been told to prepare to shut down resettlement, only to have a court step in and reinstate it — but it’s the first time that shutdown has lasted so long.

The Ninth Circuit’s ruling is yet another victory for the travel ban’s opponents in the runup to the Supreme Court hearing the case in full this fall. The Trump administration will go to the highest court in the land without a single complete court victory in this fight — and with its only partial victories coming from the Supremes themselves.