The Supreme Court ruled June 25 that the federal government may continue deporting illegal aliens, including failed asylum-seekers, who are placed in the fast-track deportation queue, quickly after they lose their legal fights.
The 7–2 ruling was a victory for President Donald Trump on immigration, his signature political issue. The Trump administration decided to rely on expedited removal, as the fast-track deportation process created in 1996 is known, to clear up frequent processing backlogs.
The process, which can reportedly take weeks instead of years, as many deportation cases take, could affect thousands of would-be immigrants now present in the United States.
The opinion in the case, known as Department of Homeland Security (DHS) v. Thuraissigiam, was written by Justice Samuel Alito. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a dissenting opinion, which Justice Elena Kagan joined.
Most asylum claims “ultimately fail, and some are fraudulent,” Alito wrote for the court.
“In 1996, when Congress enacted the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) … it crafted a system for weeding out patently meritless claims and expeditiously removing the aliens making such claims from the country.
“It was Congress’s judgment that detaining all asylum seekers until the full-blown removal process is completed would place an unacceptable burden on our immigration system and that releasing them would present an undue risk that they would fail to appear for removal proceedings.”
The statute imposed restrictions on the ability of asylum-seekers to have the lawfulness of their detention reviewed, but, after Sri Lankan national Vijayakumar Thuraissigiam’s claim that he had a credible fear of persecution in his homeland was rejected, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously reversed a lower court ruling and found he was entitled to challenge his detention in federal court.
However, Congress is entitled to speed up the removal process, and according to the Supreme Court’s precedents, the detention review-limiting provisions in the IIRIRA don’t run afoul of the Constitution, Alito wrote in overturning the decision rendered by the 9th Circuit.
The case goes back to 2017, when Thuraissigiam, an ethnic Tamil, a group that has been persecuted in Sri Lanka, was arrested 25 yards north of the U.S.–Mexico border in San Ysidro, California, after entering the country unlawfully. His case was processed under the expedited removal system, instead of the slower-moving traditional removal system.
While trying to demonstrate he had a credible fear of persecution in his homeland, Thuraissigiam claimed he had been detained and beaten in 2007 by Sri Lankan army officers for supporting a Tamil political candidate and that in 2014, government officials kidnapped and tortured him. A U.S. asylum officer, a supervisory asylum officer, and an immigration judge all rejected his refugee claim, and the file was sent to DHS for the man’s deportation.
Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler told the Supreme Court during oral arguments March 2 that the appeals court was wrong to halt the process, because federal law gives Thuraissigiam no right to go to court after going through the government’s administrative process.
“Congress has repeatedly said that an alien seeking admission is entitled only to the procedures Congress has provided,” Kneedler said.
When an immigration official rules that “an individual alien is excludable,” then that finding constitutes “due process, for purposes of the Constitution,” and “that expedited removal order establishes the government’s right to detain him.”
Dale L. Wilcox, executive director and general counsel for the Immigration Reform Law Institute, told The Epoch Times that the Supreme Court decided the case correctly.
“The court sensibly observed that the purpose of the right to habeas corpus has always been to obtain release from unlawful detention,” Wilcox said.
“Here, the court noted that the government would have been happy to release the petitioner in the cabin of an airline bound for his native country. That is not what he wanted; rather, he wanted more review of his asylum claim than the three levels of review, provided for by statute, that he had already received. The court rightly found that the common law writ of habeas corpus is not a vehicle for such relief.”
Justice Sotomayor criticized her fellow justices in her dissent, saying they were ignoring longstanding practice.
“The majority declares that the Executive Branch’s denial of asylum claims in expedited removal proceedings shall be functionally unreviewable through the writ of habeas corpus, no matter whether the denial is arbitrary or irrational or contrary to governing law. That determination flouts over a century of this Court’s practice.”
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawyer Lee Gelernt, who participated in the oral arguments in March, also criticized the court’s reasoning.
“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 in a statement.
“This decision means that some people facing flawed deportation orders can be forcibly removed with no judicial oversight, putting their lives in grave danger.”
This article by Matthew Vadum appeared June 25, 2020, in The Epoch Times.