The US Supreme Court has allowed the administration of President Donald Trump to fully enforce the third version of a controversial travel ban that prohibits people from six Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.
The court, with two of its nine justices dissenting, said in an order Monday that the policy can take full effect, even as legal challenges against it make their way through the courts.
The ban applies to people from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.
Unveiled in September, the latest ban was immediately challenged in federal appeals courts in Richmond, Virginia and San Francisco, California.
Lower courts said in October, just a day before the ban was set to come into full effect that that, the portions of the ban should be put on hold while the challenges proceed.
But Monday's order by the Supreme Court suspended the lower courts' injunctions, allowing the ban to take effect.
The court said the appeals courts in San Francisco and Richmond should act swiftly to determine the legality of the ban. The ban is the third attempt by the Trump administration to restrict individuals from several countries from coming to the US.
Lower courts had previously limited the scope of the ban to individuals without a "bona fide" relationship with someone in the US.
In July, the US Department of State expanded its definition of "close family" to include grandparents and other relatives that constitute a "bona fide" US relationship for visa applicants and refugees from the six countries.
'Not a ruling on the merits'
The ban has been widely criticised by human rights and refugee advocacy groups.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is challenging the ban, said on Twitter that Monday's decision "is not a ruling on the merits".
It added that it would "continue to fight for freedom and equality and for those who are unfairly being separated from their loved ones".
Karen Tumlin, the legal director for the National Immigration Law Center, echoed that sentiment, saying "it is important to remember that the Supreme Court has not addressed the legal merits of the latest Muslim ban nor the human impacts with its order today".The latest ban also includes restrictions on individuals from North Korea and some officials from Venezuela. The courts had already allowed those provisions to take effect.
The White House maintains the ban targets individuals from countries that have failed to provide enough information to allow for proper vetting of prospective travellers.