The U.S. Supreme Court handed the Trump administration a major victory Thursday, ruling that those who enter the United States seeking asylum from persecution elsewhere have no right to a federal court hearing.
The decision, on a 7-to-2 vote, allows the Trump administration to fast-track the deportation of thousands of immigrants who have claimed to be escaping from persecution and torture in their home countries.
That was the case of Vijayakumar Thuraissigiam, a Sri Lankan farmer who sought asylum, telling immigration officials that he had been abducted from his fields, blindfolded by men in a van, interrogated and beaten so badly with wooden sticks that he spent 11 days in the hospital.
Thuraissigiam is Tamil, an ethnic minority that has long been persecuted by the majority Sinhalese government in Sri Lanka. After the beating, he traveled for seven months to get to Mexico, where he crossed the border into the U.S., was arrested and asked for political asylum.
“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,” Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the majority opinion, said.
He was joined in the majority by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented.
Thursday’s decision could have major consequences for thousands of asylum-seekers.
A 2004 immigration policy targets any undocumented immigrant picked up within 100 miles of the border and within 14 days of entering the country for quick deportation. The Trump administration has sought to expand the deportation policy so that undocumented immigrants anywhere in the U.S. can be picked up for any reason and quickly deported up to two years after their arrival.
Thuraissigiam’s case illustrates the speed of the expedited deportation proceedings that have become routine. Following a quick hearing with no lawyer present, an immigration officer denied Thuraissigiam’s asylum claim — finding that he did not “credibl[y] fear” for his life if he were returned to his home country and therefore did not merit asylum. After a 13-minute hearing, an immigration judge — an executive branch officer, distinct from a traditional judge — upheld that decision. And so, a month after his arrival, Thuraissigiam was ordered deported back to Sri Lanka.
He filed a habeas petition alleging that the denial of his asylum claim was due to the immigration officer’s failure to properly carry out the asylum interview. The district court ruled that even though Thuraissigiam had raised valid legal concerns, he was not entitled to have a judge review his case because he was subject to expedited removal.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, intervened. It ruled that under the U.S. Constitution, Thuraissigiam has a right to have his asylum claim reviewed by the judiciary in order to ensure that, at the very least, legal errors were not made by the immigration officers who handled his case.
During arguments before the Supreme Court in March, Thuraissigiam’s lawyer, Lee Gelernt of the ACLU, told the justices that the case is of historic importance.
“There has never been a time in the history of this country when a noncitizen could be forcibly removed and deported, especially where they’re in danger, without any court at any time looking at whether the deportation is legal,” Gelernt told NPR at the time.
Inside the court, Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler, representing the Trump administration, told the justices that under the immigration statute, there is no right to judicial review — an argument that seven of the nine justices appear to have bought.