The Trump administration can strictly enforce its ban on refugees, the US Supreme Court has ruled
However, the court is leaving in place a weakened travel ban that includes grandparents among relatives who can help visitors from six mostly Muslim countries get into the US.
The justices acted today on the administration’s appeal against a federal judge’s ruling last week.
US District Judge Derrick Watson ordered the government to allow in refugees formally working with a resettlement agency in the United States.
He also vastly expanded the family relations that refugees and visitors can use to get into the country.
The high court blocked his order as it applies to refugees for now, but not the expanded list of relatives.
The justices said the federal appeals court in San Francisco should now consider the appeal.
It is not clear how quickly that will happen.
In the meantime, up to 24,000 refugees who have already been assigned to a charity or religious organisation in the US will not be able to use that connection to get into the country.
"This ruling jeopardises the safety of thousands of people across the world including vulnerable families fleeing war and violence," said Naureen Shah, Amnesty International USA’s senior director of campaigns.
That part of the court’s ruling was a victory for President Donald Trump, who rolled out a first ban on travellers and refugees after just a week in office, prompting a legal fight that has raged ever since.
However, the Supreme Court also denied the administration’s request to clarify its ruling last month that allowed the administration to partially reinstate a 90-day ban on visitors from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen and a 120-day ban on refugees from anywhere in the world.
The court’s ruling exempted a large swath of refugees and travellers with a "bona fide relationship" with a person or an entity in the US.
The justices did not define those relationships but said they could include a close relative, a job offer or admission to a college or university.
Judge Watson’s order added grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins to a list that already included a parent, spouse, fiance, son, daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law or sibling in the US.
The expanded list of relatives remains in effect, and the State Department already has instructed diplomats to use the broader list when considering visa applicants from the six countries.
Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin said the court’s order "confirms we were right to say that the Trump administration over-reached in trying to unilaterally keep families apart from each other".
Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas would have blocked Judge Watson’s order in its entirety.
Those same three justices said last month they would have allowed the Trump travel ban to take full effect.
The travel ban is already on the court’s calendar for October, though the 90-day pause will have expired by then.