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State Department Excludes Grandparents in Defining ‘Close Family’

With Trump’s travel ban getting partially reinstated this week, the State Department has issued new guidelines regarding the ban to help clarify who is and is not allowed to enter the United States. The Supreme Court made it clear that the ban would not be imposed on anyone with “a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.” But the definition of a “bona fide relationship” was not clearly defined, so the Trump administration has given an explicit definition of what counts as “close family.”

According to a diplomatic cable obtained by The New York Times, the Trump administration defines a close family as “a parent (including parent-in-law), spouse, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, sibling, whether whole or half. This includes step relationships.” In this definition, a close family does not include “grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-in-laws and sisters-in-law, fiancés and any other ‘extended’ family members.”

protestors at trump travel ban demonstration

It is not currently clear how the Trump administration came up with these definitions, but it is clear why it matters. Under existing laws, Americans can petition for immigration visas for immediate relatives, which include parents, siblings, and children (under 21) of U.S. citizens.

Unsurprisingly, this is not the first time society has struggled to define family. While the nuclear family of the past may seem less complicated than the more modern definition of family, there has always been a struggle to figure out where close family ends and distant relative begins. And it gets especially complicated in a legal context. Situations like hospital visits, guardianship of kids, and even inheritance have all muddied the water of what defines close family. At least in the eyes of the government.

But for now, the Trump administration has drawn clear lines for what a family is and is not, and, unfortunately, someone is going to have to tell grandma she didn’t make the cut.