In a 7-2 decision Thursday, the United States Supreme Court ruled that asylum seekers cannot challenge their fast-tracked deportation cases in federal courts, giving the Trump administration a victory in its pursuit of restrictionist immigration policies.
Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said asylum seekers whose claims do not pass an initial screening by immigration officials do not have a constitutional right to make their case before a judge and are subject to expedited removal from the United States. Alito described the system as “weeding out patently meritless [asylum] claims.”
The court ruled in the case of Vijayakumar Thuraissigiam, a member of Sri Lanka’s Tamil ethnic minority, who said he left his country after being beaten by a gang. Federal agents took Thuraissigiam into DHS custody in California about 25 meters north of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Agents concluded he did not have a credible fear of persecution if returned to Sri Lanka and was therefore eligible for quick removal. Thuraissigiam filed suit, alleging that the government had denied him due process rights.
A district judge ruled against him, but a federal appeals court disagreed, saying Thuraissigiam had been denied due process.
In a sharply-worded dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the high court’s decision “handcuffs the judiciary’s ability to perform its constitutional duty to safeguard individual liberty” and that the ruling invites the wholesale elimination of procedural protections for noncitizens.
American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Gelernt, who argued the case for Thuraissigiam, spoke against the decision in a statement Thursday.
“This 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,” Gelernt said. “Some people facing flawed deportation orders can be forcibly removed with no judicial oversight, putting their lives in grave danger.”
Federal law holds that migrants who enter the U.S. without permission and can't demonstrate a credible fear of returning to their home countries can be deported quickly. An asylum officer makes an initial determination whether the migrant has a “credible fear of persecution or torture.” If a migrant passes the screening, they can make their case in a U.S. immigration court. On average, pending cases wait nearly two years between initial screenings and the full court hearing.
A Trump administration rule change last September extended expedited deportation to unlawful migrants anywhere in the U.S. who had been in the country for up to two years. Before, the law only applied to people detained within 100 miles of a land border within two weeks of their arrival to the U.S.
On Monday, the Trump administration released a new rule that limited asylum seekers’ eligibility for employment authorization. It will go into effect on August 25.