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U.S. Supreme Court Permits Fast-Track Deportation of Asylum-Seekers

In the shadow of the major victory that the U.S. Supreme Court handed to DACA recipients, the court just dealt a blow to immigrants, finding that an asylum-seeker had no right to a hearing in federal court after immigration officials ordered his removal.

The June 25 decision allows the Trump administration (and other future administrations) to fast-track deportation of asylum-seekers after only minimal screening. It is expected to affect thousands of immigrants. The case addressed the constitutionality of a federal immigration law that aimed to reduce meritless asylum claims through expedited proceedings.

Vijayakumar Thuraissigiam, a Sri Lankan farmer, entered the U.S. illegally and was arrested 25 yards north of the Mexican border. He is Tamil, an ethnic minority with a long history of persecution by the majority Sinhalese government. Thuraissigiam sought asylum, telling immigration officials that while working at his farm in Sri Lanka he was abducted and beaten so severely that he spent 11 days in the hospital. The incident is consistent with a pattern of violence carried out against Tamils in Sri Lanka. Thuraissigiam fled his home country after the incident and embarked on a seven-month journey to the U.S.

Following a brief hearing without a lawyer, an asylum officer determined that Thuraissigiam did not qualify for asylum because he had not established a credible fear of persecution if he were returned to Sri Lanka. The decision was affirmed by a supervising officer and an immigration judge. The hearing before the immigration judge lasted 13 minutes. Under the law, Thuraissigiam could not challenge the finding in federal court, and he was ordered to be deported back to Sri Lanka.

Thuraissigiam filed a petition in federal district court for habeas corpus relief, which would allow him to challenge the lawfulness of his detention in federal court. The district court dismissed Thuraissigiam’s claim, finding that under a 1996 federal statute federal courts could not intervene in expedited removal proceedings. The 9th Circuit U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision, finding that the statute violated the Constitution’s prohibition on the suspension of habeas corpus. The Department of Homeland Security appealed to the Supreme Court.

In a 7-2 vote, the court ruled that the rights of habeas corpus and due process of law do not require a hearing before a judge for asylum-seekers who are turned away after an initial screening. The majority opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, states:

If courts must review credible-fear claims that in the eyes of immigration officials and an immigration judge do not meet the low bar for such claims, expedited removal would augment the burdens on that system.