As Trump travel ban takes effect Thursday, many questions still up in air

The Trump administration's travel restrictions blocking foreigners from six Muslim-majority countries and refugees fleeing persecution will take effect Thursday, following the Supreme Court's decision earlier this week to temporarily uphold portions of the ban.

David Lapan, a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson, confirmed to NBC News Wednesday evening that the order "will begin to be implemented tomorrow and detailed guidance will be provided to DHS professionals."

A senior administration official told NBC News that it's likely the ban won't go into effect until the evening.

The high court's ruling allowed President Donald Trump to place a 90-day ban on foreign travelers from six countries — Iran, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen — as well as a 120-day ban on refugees fleeing persecution from any country when they have no "bona fide relationship" with an entity or person in the United States. The Supreme Court has granted full review of the travel ban and oral argument is set for October.

Related: Supreme Court Reinstates Much of Trump's Travel Ban, Will Hear Case in Fall

At least one Supreme Court Justice was skeptical that a temporary solution was workable. Justice Clarence Thomas in his dissent said that the Court's "compromise" would "invite a flood of litigation until this case is finally resolved on the merits, as parties and courts struggle to determine what exactly constitutes a bona fide relationship."

While it's not clear how many travelers could be affected by the ban, State Department data suggests many if not most foreign travelers to this country have family connections in the United States.

For instance, of the 12,998 immigrant visas issued from Yemen last year, nearly all of the recipients — 12,563 —had immediate family in the United States.

Plans Are Still in Flux

But just how broadly or narrowly federal agencies charged with implementing the Supreme Court's order will write the guidelines remains to be seen. Both DHS and the State Department had said they were waiting on the Department of Justice to clarify the Court's decision and have largely remained mum on what the new guidelines may entail.

DHS did issue a statement in the immediate aftermath of the Court's decision, asserting that the Executive Order "will be done professionally, with clear and sufficient public notice, particularly to potentially affected travelers, and in coordination with partners in the travel industry."

See protests against the ban

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Protests against Trump's proposed travel ban
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Protests against Trump's proposed travel ban
People protest U.S. President Donald Trump's travel ban outside of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Seattle, Washington, U.S. May 15, 2017. REUTERS/David Ryder
A man holds an umbrella during a protest of U.S. President Donald Trump's travel ban outside of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Seattle, Washington, U.S. May 15, 2017. REUTERS/David Ryder
A protester from Amnesty International rallies against U.S. President Donald Trump's new executive order temporarily banning the entry of refugees and travelers from six Muslim-majority countries in Sydney, Australia, March 9, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Reed
Demonstrator protests against President Donald Trump's revised travel ban outside the offices of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., March 16, 2017. REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski
A woman protests against U.S. President Donald Trump's travel ban outside of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Seattle, Washington, U.S. May 15, 2017. REUTERS/David Ryder
Chrissy Pearce protests outside the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals courthouse in San Francisco, California February 7, 2017, ahead of the Court hearing arguments regarding President Donald Trump's temporary travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries. REUTERS/Noah Berger
Demonstrators protest against President Donald Trump's revised travel ban outside the offices of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., March 16, 2017. REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski
Demonstrators protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's revised travel ban outside the offices of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., March 16, 2017. REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 28: Protestors rally in front of the Trump Building on Wall Street during a protest against the Trump administration's proposed travel ban and refugee policies, March 28, 2017 in New York City. The Trump administration's proposed travel ban includes a provision that would bar refugees entry into the United States for 120 days. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 28: Protestors place photographs of refugees in rafts in front of the Trump Building on Wall Street during a protest against the Trump administration's proposed travel ban and refugee policies, March 28, 2017 in New York City. The Trump administration's proposed travel ban includes a provision that would bar refugees entry into the United States for 120 days. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 16: Demonstrators protest outside the office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on March 16, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. The demonstrators were protesting the revised travel ban that the administration of President Donald Trump was trying to implement. The ban, which would restrict travel from six predominantly Muslim countries, was supposed to be instituted today but was halted yesterday by a federal judge in Hawaii. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Demonstrators gather near The White House to protest President Donald Trump's travel ban on six Muslim countries on March 11, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Tasos Katopodis (Photo credit should read TASOS KATOPODIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Demonstrators gather near The White House to protest President Donald Trump's travel ban on six Muslim countries on March 11, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Tasos Katopodis (Photo credit should read TASOS KATOPODIS/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 3: Protestors write messages directed toward President Donald Trump on lanterns near the Washington Monument, February 3, 2017 in Washington, DC. The protest is aimed at President Trump's travel ban policy. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Thousands of protesters with banners and placards march through central London during a demonstration against U.S. President Donald Trump on February 4, 2017 in London, England. Thousands of protesters march from the U.S. Embassy in London to Downing Street today against President Trump's executive order banning immigration to the USA from seven Muslim countries. (Photo by Jay Shaw Baker/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 29: Linda Sarsour attends a rally to protest the executive order that President Donald Trump signed clamping down on refugee admissions and temporarily restricting travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries in New York City on January 29, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/WireImage)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 03: Demonstrators protest against US President Donald Trump's ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries entering the US on February 3, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. The demonstrators are protesting against United States President Donald Trump's travel ban affecting citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
Rosalie Gurna, 9, holds a sign in support of Muslim family members as people protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's travel ban on Muslim majority countries, at the International terminal at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
People protest against President Donald Trump's travel ban in New York City, U.S., February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Demonstrators participate in a protest by the Yemeni community against U.S. President Donald Trump's travel ban in the Brooklyn borough of New York, U.S., February 2, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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Heather Nauert, a State Department spokeswoman, told reporters on Tuesday that the guidance was still "in flux."

"People here are hard at work with Department of Justice and also I believe Homeland Security to try to figure out exactly what this term 'bona fide' should mean and will mean, and then we'll get that information out to our folks across the world," she said.

Related: Who Will Be Affected by the Supreme Court's Travel Ban Ruling?

Most visa screenings are done by U.S. consular offices in the applicants' home countries. The Trump administration already has stated that its revised order would not apply to those with existing visas. Rather, the ban would only bar applications for new visas.

But immigration experts worry that airlines and border agents may not be adequately prepared to enforce the Supreme Court's decision reinstating a portion of the ban, potentially leaving foreign travelers in the lurch.

Immigrant Advocates Worry About Repeat of Travel Ban Chaos

"It's very hard to make sure everyone reads the rule and applies the rule consistently," said Greg Chen, an attorney with the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

He added that, even for those border patrol agents operating in good faith, they can "read a piece of paper and draw different conclusions."

Advocacy groups say they are lawyering up in anticipation that things may go awry.

"Anywhere there are international flights coming into the United States, we've been working with attorneys to make sure they're on call and prepped in case there are illegal detentions at that airport in violation of the Supreme Court order," said Mark Doss, a supervising attorney at the International Refugee Assistance Project, a New York City-based advocacy group.

What Does "Bona Fide Relationship" Mean?

Immigration advocates note that the term "bona fide relationship" is vague and worry that the Trump administration, in issuing new guidelines, will give too much discretion to border patrol agents or consular officers who may inconsistently interpret the Supreme Court's meaning.

The justices did point to concrete examples of the type of familial relationships that could qualify, such as a spouse or a mother-in-law, and also suggested that those travelers with acceptance letters to American universities or offers of employment with an U.S. company should also be allowed to enter.

Yet Gerald Neuman, co-director of the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School said whether relatives outside of an immediate family, for example, aunts and cousins, will be allowed to enter is an outstanding question.

"I think there's going to be a gray area and we'll see how much disagreement there is about it and how people respond to it," he said.

A Lack of Transparency

Neuman also said a lack of transparency about how border patrol agents make on-the-spot decisions at airports could further complicate matters.

"It's very difficult to know what's happening with people who arrive in airports in non-public areas,"Neuman said.

Despite having a visa, customs and border patrol can still lawfully prevent foreign travelers from entering the country for a range of security and public health related reasons.

Who does the ban effect?

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Faces of Trump's immigration crackdown
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Faces of Trump's immigration crackdown
Mexican national Adalberto Magana-Gonzalez, 44, waits to be processed after being taken into custody by a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Fugitive Operations team in Santa Ana, California, U.S., May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson SEARCH "NICHOLSON ARREST" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY.
Mexican national Adalberto Magana-Gonzalez, 44, has his fingerprints taken after being taken into custody by a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Fugitive Operations team in Santa Ana, California, U.S., May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson SEARCH "NICHOLSON ARREST" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
The badge of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Fugitive Operations team is seen in Santa Ana, California, U.S., May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson SEARCH "NICHOLSON ARREST" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Assistant Field Office Director Jorge Field (R), 53, arrests Mexican national Adalberto Magana-Gonzalez, 44, in San Clemente, California, U.S., May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson SEARCH "NICHOLSON ARREST" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Mexican national Adalberto Magana-Gonzalez, 44, waits to be processed after being taken into custody by a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Fugitive Operations team in Santa Ana, California, U.S., May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson SEARCH "NICHOLSON ARREST" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Assistant Field Office Director Jorge Field (R), 53, arrests Mexican national Adalberto Magana-Gonzalez, 44, in San Clemente, California, U.S., May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson SEARCH "NICHOLSON ARREST" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Fugitive Operations team takes immigration fugitives into custody in Santa Ana, California, U.S., May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson SEARCH "NICHOLSON ARREST" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Handcuffs lie in a box at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Fugitive Operations office in Santa Ana, California, U.S., May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson SEARCH "NICHOLSON ARREST" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Assistant Field Office Director Jorge Field (L), 53, arrests an Iranian immigrant in San Clemente, California, U.S., May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson SEARCH "NICHOLSON ARREST" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Assistant Field Office Director Jorge Field (R), 53, and Field Office Director David Marin arrest an Iranian immigrant in San Clemente, California, U.S., May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson SEARCH "NICHOLSON ARREST" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Assistant Field Office Director Jorge Field, 53, arrests an Iranian immigrant in San Clemente, California, U.S., May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson SEARCH "NICHOLSON ARREST" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Fugitive Operations team member arrests an Iranian immigrant in Santa Ana, California, U.S., May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson SEARCH "NICHOLSON ARREST" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Fugitive Operations team search for an immigration fugitive in Santa Ana, California, U.S., May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson SEARCH "NICHOLSON ARREST" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
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Sarah Paoletti, director of the Transnational Legal Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania law school, said, beyond border patrol agents, she fears airlines may refuse to issue tickets if they believe foreign travelers lack a credible tie to the United States.

Related: Trump's Footloose Foreign Policy Keeps His Own Team Guessing

"How will the airlines and Customs and Border Patrol treat arriving immigrants from any one of these countries?" Paoletti asked. "The airlines don't know immigration law and are now left to figure out what this all means."

Advocates point to the chaos that ensued in January after President Trump issued his first travel ban that went into effect while many immigrant travelers were already in the air and bounded for the United States.

This time around, Paoletti thinks that travelers are more likely to face issues at their point of departure, as airlines will have to check if their travel documents meet the requirements for the issuance of a boarding pass.

The Airlines Weigh In

Most U.S. airlines do not even service the countries affected by the ban, said Penny Kozakos, vice president of communications for Airlines for America, a Washington D.C.-based trade organization.

She said carriers simply follow American regulations when making decisions about who can board an inbound flight.

"Airlines carrying inbound passengers to the U.S. are required to ensure that those passengers are properly documented for entry — this includes a passport and a visa, if required," Kozakos wrote in an email. "The Supreme Court decision this week has not changed any U.S. government procedures that airlines follow for inbound international flights."

Meanwhile, British Airways, which services three of the six countries — Libya, Sudan and Iran — said in a statement that it would comply with new requirements from the U.S. government.

"The safety and security of our customers and colleagues is our top priority at all times," BA said. "We will comply with the new requirements from the US Government and our flights will continue to operate as normal."

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