Tip Sheets

New US visa definition of family strict, but soft on sensibility

Media Contact

Rebecca Valli

The State Department issued new immigration guidelines aimed at clarifying the Trump administration’s travel ban, which limits visas for citizens of six predominantly Muslim countries. The guidelines outline the meaning of “bona fide” relationship, one of the visa requirements for foreign visitors from those countries attempting to come to the U.S.

Maria Cristina Garcia

Howard A. Newman Professor of American Studies

Maria Cristina Garcia, professor of history and Latino studies at Cornell, says that the U.S. government’s strict definition of ‘bona fide relationship’ runs contrary to what many around the world consider family.

Garcia says: 

“The U.S. government has long tried to define ‘family’ for purposes of immigration and travel, and its definitions often run contrary to what many around the world consider family.

“The Trump administration’s definition is more rigid than appears in immigration law but it does have precedent. In 2004, for example, the Bush administration placed restrictions on family travel to Cuba, and Cuban-Americans were only allowed to return to the island once every three years to visit parents, spouses, and children.

“While there is a precedent for travel policy, it is inhumane to limit refugee visas solely to those who already have immediate family members in the United States.”

Sergio Garcia-Rios

Assistant Professor

Sergio Garcia-Rios, professor of government and an expert on immigration, Latino politics, race and ethnicity, says that the State Department’s “bona fide” standards is inconsistent and does not fulfill the travel ban’s stated goal of border security.

Garcia-Rios says: 

“One of the main problems with the Supreme Court’s decision is that it allows, even if temporarily, for further discretionary use of the executive power when it comes to immigration and border security.

“As such, in the very first display of such discretionary power, the so-called ‘bona fide relationship’ standard shows an alarming level of inconsistency and it is hard to understand the logic behind it.

“It is not clear why in-law relationships would constitute a ‘bona fide relationship’ but not grandparents. When it comes to immigration and politics, definitions matter. Let’s not forget that the initial motivation for the ban was security and every decision should be evaluated under that scope.

“This inconsistent definition could be brought up this fall when justices will be holding hearings for the ban.”

Cornell University has television, ISDN and dedicated Skype/Google+ Hangout studios available for media interviews.