Ruling against a Sri Lankan man arrested near the Mexican border, the justices said the U.S. Constitution doesn’t give asylum seekers the right to request a court order letting them stay in the country. The vote was 7-2, though only the court’s five conservative justices joined the most sweeping reasoning.
The ruling directly affects people who fail their initial asylum screening and become eligible for a fast-track deportation process that includes only limited judicial review. The court’s reasoning could also have a broader impact, potentially curbing the rights of millions of people who are in the country without authorization.
Writing for the court, Justice
“The relief requested falls outside the scope of the writ as it was understood when the Constitution was adopted,” Alito wrote in the court’s lead opinion. He said Vijayakumar Thuraissigiam was seeking “an entirely different end, namely, to obtain additional administrative review of his asylum claim and ultimately to obtain authorization to stay in this country.”
The ruling “purges an entire class of legal challenges to executive detention from habeas review, circumscribing that foundational and stable bulwark of our liberties,” Sotomayor wrote for the dissenters.
The case centered on “expedited removal,” a streamlined deportation process set up by Congress in 1996. Until recently, those eligible included only people who are arrested within 100 miles of the border less than two weeks after crossing, and then are deemed by immigration officials not to have a credible fear of being persecuted.
In a separate case, a federal appeals court this week
Thuraissigiam says he would be subject to persecution as an ethnic Tamil if he were returned to Sri Lanka. Thuraissigiam says he went into hiding and then fled Sri Lanka after a group of men kidnapped and beat him in 2014. He crossed into the U.S. near San Ysidro, California, and was arrested 25 yards north of the border.
The high court’s ruling “fails to live up to the Constitution’s bedrock principle that individuals deprived of their liberty have their day in court, and this includes asylum seekers,” said
“This decision means that some people facing flawed deportation orders can be forcibly removed with no judicial oversight, putting their lives in grave danger,” Gelernt said.
The ruling is “an important victory for enforcement of immigration laws,” Justice Department spokeswoman Alexa Vance said in an emailed statement. “Today’s decision allows the Trump administration to continue to defend our borders, uphold the rule of law and keep Americans safe.”
Senate Judiciary Chairman
The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had said Thuraissigiam could invoke the Constitution’s suspension clause, which protects the right of people to file habeas corpus petitions. The appeals court said immigrants must be given a “meaningful opportunity” to show they meet the criteria for asylum.
Thuraissigiam’s lawyers said the hearing before the immigration judge often lasts just a few minutes and almost always occurs without witnesses. By law, that hearing must take place no later than seven days after the asylum officer’s determination.
The immigrant may then turn to federal court, but U.S. immigration law effectively limits that review to claims of mistaken identity, Thuraissigiam’s lawyers said.
The case is Department of Homeland Security v. Thuraissigiam, 19-161.
(Updates with Justice Department reaction in 14th paragraph)
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