Alan Gomez on the increase in asylum claims at the southern border and why Trump administration policies tightening restrictions are causing tension.
WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court handed a green light Thursday to the Trump administration in its effort to speed up the removal of those seeking asylum.
The court ruled that asylum-seekers claiming fear of persecution abroad do not have to be given a federal court hearing before quick removal from the United States if they initially fail to prove that claim.
The decision was written by Associate Justice Samuel Alito. Associate Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented.
The case, one of many to come before the high court involving the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration, concerned Sri Lanka native Vijayakumar Thuraissigiam. He was arrested 25 yards north of the Mexican border and immediately placed in expedited removal proceedings.
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Immigration officials determined that Thuraissigiam did not have a credible fear of persecution, even though he is a member of Sri Lanka’s Tamil ethnic minority that faces beatings and torture at the hands of the government.
“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 and that, as a result, an alien at the threshold of initial entry cannot claim any greater rights under the Due Process Clause,” Alito wrote in a 36-page opinion.
In her dissent, Sotomayor said the system Congress established short-circuits an inquiry designed to determine whether asylum-seekers “may seek shelter in this country or whether they may be cast to an unknown fate.”
“Today’s decision handcuffs the judiciary’s ability to perform its constitutional duty to safeguard individual liberty and dismantles a critical component of the separation of powers,” she wrote. “It increases the risk of erroneous immigration decisions that contravene governing statutes and treaties.”
The court’s other two liberal justices, Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, agreed with the judgment but said they would have applied it only to Thuraissigiam’s claim.
“Addressing more broadly whether the Suspension Clause protects people challenging removal decisions may raise a host of difficult questions,” Breyer wrote, such as whether the same limit can apply to those picked up years after crossing the border, or to those claiming to be U.S. citizens.
During oral argument in March, Chief Justice John Roberts and other conservatives expressed concern that granting Thuraissigiam a hearing could lead to a significant expansion of new claims. His lawyer said about 9,500 asylum-seekers fit the same category.
Only 30 petitions for federal court hearings have been filed so far, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Gelernt said then. On Thursday, he lamented that the 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.”
But Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler said during oral argument that close to 100 petitions had been filed. Heand warned of “the potential for a flood” of cases if the Supreme Court ruled for Thuraissigiam.
The case represented a crucial test of the Trump administration’s effort to speed the removal of thousands of migrants without granting federal court hearings. The fast-track process is allowed under a law passed by Congress in 1996.
The California-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which has drawn Trump’s ire for its decisions on immigration, ruled last year that efforts to remove asylum-seekers under such “expedited removal” procedures violated their constitutional rights.
The Justice Department argued that extending the streamlined process could add years of court wrangling. After losing the case, the administration in July expanded the expedited removal system to incorporate asylum-seekers apprehended anywhere in the country who have not been continuously present in the USA for two years.
The case is one of several challenging the Trump administration’s efforts to crack down on migrants seeking asylum after crossing the Mexican border.
In February, a federal appeals court blocked the administration’s policy of returning asylum-seekers to Mexico to await court hearings, a practice immigrant rights advocates have denounced as inhumane and deadly.
Last September, the justices temporarily upheld a different policy denying asylum to those who do not seek protection first from a country they pass through, such as Mexico.
But in 2018, the Supreme Court temporarily blocked a policy aimed at denying asylum to migrants crossing the border illegally rather than at designated crossings.
Trump’s three-year crackdown on immigration has led to a surge in lawsuits reaching the Supreme Court, where a rebuilt conservative majority increasingly is paying dividends for him.
In the past year, the justices also let the administration deter poor immigrants and redirect military funds to build a wall along the southern border.
The high court has heard arguments in eight immigration cases since its term began in October, including a challenge to Trump’s plan to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that enables nearly 650,000 undocumented immigrants to work without fear of deportation.
The program was created by President Barack Obama in 2012 to help young, undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children. During oral argument in November, the court’s conservative justices said the administration had ample policy reasons to end it. But the high court ruled 5-4 against the Trump administration in a surprise ruling written byRoberts. Trump has said he will try again to wind down the DACA program.
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