The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday enhanced the ability of President Donald Trump’s administration to quickly deport illegal immigrants, including asylum seekers, with limited judicial review, handing him a victory in a case involving one of his signature issues in an election year.
The justices ruled in favour of the administration in its appeal of a lower court ruling that a Sri Lankan farmer named Vijayakumar Thuraissigiam had a right to have a judge review the government’s handling of his asylum bid.
The ruling, written by conservative Justice Samuel Alito, found that limiting judicial scrutiny in this rapid deportation case, known as expedited removal, did not violate key safeguards of individual liberty in the U.S. Constitution.
The vote was 7-2. Although two of the four liberal justices, Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, agreed that Thuraissigiam’s legal claim failed, they did not embrace Alito’s broad reasoning. Liberal justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented.
It has long been recognized that people who have yet to be granted legal entry to the United States do not have the full range of constitutional rights and that Congress has some authority to determine what rights they do possess, Alito wrote.
“While aliens who have established connections in this country have due process rights in deportation proceedings, the court long ago held that Congress is entitled to set the conditions for an alien’s lawful entry into this country,” he wrote.
The ruling will have wide implications for immigrants facing removal, Sotomayor wrote, giving the administration “unchecked” power and increasing the risk of arbitrary and illegal decisions by immigration officials in deportation proceedings.
The United States “has time and again reaffirmed its commitment to providing sanctuary to those escaping oppression and persecution,” Sotomayor wrote.
The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2019 ruled that under the Constitution’s suspension clause — relating to a person’s ability to challenge confinement by the government — courts should be able to review Thuraissigiam’s claims.
Decision offers no fix to incorrect denials, ACLU says
The administration contended the 9th Circuit ruling would defeat the purpose of quick deportation and “impose a severe burden on the immigration system.”
Lee Gelernt, the American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who argued the case in the Supreme Court, said the outcome will make it hard to question the actions of immigration officials at the U.S. border.
“This decision will impact potentially tens of thousands of people at the border who will not be able to seek review of erroneous denials of asylum,” Gelernt said.
Thuraissigiam sought U.S. asylum, claiming that as a member of Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority he was tortured over his political ties and subjected to beatings and simulated drowning. He fled Sri Lanka in 2016 and was arrested in California in 2017.
He was placed on track for expedited removal, a system dating back to 1996 that makes an exception for immigrants who can establish a “credible fear” of persecution or torture in their home country. U.S. officials rejected Thuraissigiam’s claim.
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Since 2004, immigration officials have targeted for quick deportation undocumented immigrants who are picked up within 160 kilometres of the U.S. border and within 14 days of entering the country. The Trump administration is seeking to expand that authority so that people detained anywhere in the U.S. and up to two years after they got here could be quickly deported.
On Tuesday, a federal appeals court threw out a trial judge’s ruling that had blocked the expanded policy. Other legal issues remain to be resolved in the case.
The administration has made dismantling the asylum system a centrepiece of its immigration agenda, saying it is rife with abuse and overwhelmed by meritless claims. Changes include making asylum-seekers wait in Mexico while their cases wind through U.S. immigration court, denying asylum to anyone on the Mexican border who passes through another country without first seeking protection there, and flying Hondurans and El Salvadorans to Guatemala with an opportunity to seek asylum there instead of the U.S.
On Monday, the Trump administration published sweeping new procedural and substantive rules that would make it much more difficult to get asylum, triggering a 30-day period for public comment before they can take effect.
The United States became the world’s top destination for asylum-seekers in 2017, according to UN figures, many of them Mexican and Central American families fleeing endemic violence.
In a major immigration-related ruling last week, the Supreme Court blocked Trump’s attempt to rescind a government program that protects “Dreamers” — mostly immigrants from Latin America brought to the United States illegally as children — from deportation.