The ruling is a victory for the Trump administration, which has attempted to dramatically limit who is eligible for asylum in the U.S., although it likely won’t have an immediate impact as the vast majority of asylum seekers are currently banned. enter the country after a new coronavirus border restrictions.
Seven judges sided with the government in the case, but only five, all conservatives, signed the majority opinion written by judge Samuel Alito.
Alito said that the petitioner in the case, Vijayakumar Thuraissigiam, “does not want ‘simple release’ but, ultimately, the opportunity to remain legally in the United States.”
Additional judicial challenges could also affect the immigration system, Alito said.
“If the courts are to review credible fear claims that, in the eyes of immigration officials and an immigration judge, do not qualify for such claims,” he wrote, “expedited removal would increase the burdens on that system.” .
The ruling could affect many asylum seekers in the future by removing the opportunity to go to federal court to contest a negative finding by immigration officials.
Currently, undocumented immigrants who are trapped within 100 miles of a land border and within 14 days of arrival are subject to an expedited removal process, and their removal may be ordered without further hearing or review. However, if the individual seeks asylum, an additional assessment is provided to an asylum officer, a supervising officer, and an immigration judge to determine if the person has a credible fear of persecution or torture if they return to their home country. .
“This is a devastating blow to the due process rights of asylum seekers who come to our border seeking protection,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, political adviser to the US Immigration Council.
The Trump administration wants to include undocumented immigrants anywhere in the US who cannot prove they have lived in the US continuously for two years or more. A federal judge has blocked the measure, but proceedings are ongoing.
“This raises a lot of questions about what rights do people who have developed strong ties to the community have and if this decision would undermine those rights,” said Reichlin-Melnick.
Thuraissigiam, a member of a minority ethnic group in Sri Lanka, entered the United States illegally and was arrested 25 yards north of the Mexican border. He applied for asylum and told the officer that he had been working on his farm in his home country when a group of men detained him and severely beat him. He said he did not know who they were and why they had chosen him. He was denied the opportunity to seek asylum.
The asylum officer determined that he had not established a credible fear of persecution, a decision affirmed by the supervising officer and the immigration judge. Under the law, after the denial, Thuraissigiam was not eligible to challenge the finding in federal court.
Thuraissigiam’s attorneys at the ACLU went to the federal district court arguing that the expedited removal outlined in the law violated his due process rights, depriving him of a “significant opportunity” to establish his claims.
“Everyone within the United States has the right to due process,” ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt told the judges.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for the United States agreed, holding that the law violated a part of the Constitution called the Suspension Clause, which would allow Thuraissigiam, even as a non-citizen, to have an opportunity to challenge his detention.
Gelernt said Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling “does not meet the fundamental principle of the Constitution that people deprived of their liberty have their day in court, and this includes asylum seekers. This decision means that some people Those who face defective deportation orders can be forcibly expelled without judicial supervision, putting their lives in grave danger. “
The Suspension Clause prohibits the government from depriving someone of his liberty without the opportunity for a court to review the legality of the government’s action.
In court, attorneys for the Trump administration pointed to an earlier precedent that distinguishes between a person who entered the country legally and became part of the population, and someone who entered only clandestinely and was in the country less than two years. They said the law outlining expedited removal had been passed so that the system was not abused.
On Thursday, Alito wrote that Thuraissigiam “only has those rights with respect to the admission that Congress has provided.”
He said that Congress gave Thuraissigiam the right to determine if he had a significant possibility of filing an asylum application and that he was “granted that right.”
Sotomayor disagrees warns of consequences
In strong disagreement, Judge Sonia Sotomayor said the impact of majority opinion could have broader consequences for U.S. immigration law and how undocumented non-citizens or immigrants are treated.
“Taken to its extreme, a rule that conditions due process rights to legal entry would allow Congress to constitutionally remove all procedural protections for any non-citizen that the government considers to be illegally admitted and to deport him summarily no matter how many decades they have lived here, how established and integrated are in your communities, or how many members of your family are citizens or residents of the United States, “Sotomayor wrote in his dissent, along with his liberal partner Elena Kagan.
“This judicial line drawing is not administrable, it threatens to create arbitrary divisions among non-citizens in this country subject to expulsion procedures and, most importantly, it lacks foundation in the Constitution.”
The ruling “handcuffs the ability of the Judiciary to fulfill its constitutional duty to safeguard individual liberty and dismantles a critical component of the separation of powers.”
She said she will leave “exercises of executive discretion uncontrolled” and that the Court “justifies its decision by pointing out perceived vulnerabilities and abuses in the asylum system.”
But, he said, “asylum laws have represented the best of our nation” and that while it is “universally recognized that the asylum regime is under pressure,” the political branches have tools to reform the system.
“The role of the judiciary is minimal, but crucial: to ensure that the laws passed by Congress are consistent with the limits of the Constitution.”
“The Court today ignores its obligation,” he said.
The opinion and dissent were transmitted on Sotomayor’s 66th birthday.
Traditionally, judges celebrated birthdays with a toast at their regularly scheduled private court session. But with the coronavirus pandemic closing the court, judges meet only by phone.
This story has been updated with more of the opinion.
CNN’s Devan Cole contributed to this report.