U.S. Supreme Court

SCOTUS upholds limits on habeas review for some asylum-seekers

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The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld restrictions on habeas review as applied to an asylum-seeker who was subject to a quick deportation process.

In a June 25 opinion by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., the court majority found no violation of either the suspension clause or the due process clause.

Alito’s opinion was joined in full by the court’s four other conservative justices. Justice Stephen G. Breyer concurred in the judgment in an opinion joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Breyer’s opinion agreed that the asylum-seeker, Vijayakumar Thuraissigiam, was not entitled to habeas review but said the court shouldn’t go further to decide whether the suspension clause protects immigrants who have been in the country for a longer period.

The ABA had filed an amicus brief supporting the asylum-seeker, who was apprehended just 25 yards inside the border in January 2017 and placed in expedited removal proceedings.

In the Obama administration, the expedited removal process applied to immigrants detained at the border less than two weeks after their arrival. The Trump administration has expanded expedited removal to include individuals found anywhere in the country within two years of their entry. A federal appeals court lifted an injunction Tuesday that had blocked the expansion.

Thuraissigiam was a member of the Tamil ethnic minority in Sri Lanka who claimed that he was persecuted in his home country for supporting a Tamil political candidate. But Thuraissigiam told an asylum officer that the men who beat him didn’t identify themselves and didn’t say why they attacked him.

An asylum officer, a supervisory asylum officer and an immigration judge had all found that Thuraissigiam wasn’t entitled to asylum. Thuraissigiam sought federal court review.

If an asylum officer had ruled for Thuraissigiam after a credible fear interview, he would have been entitled to full consideration of his asylum claim in a standard removal hearing.

Habeas review is limited in cases of expedited removal by the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. The law allows habeas review of only three matters in such cases: whether the petitioner “is an alien;” whether the petitioner was ordered removed; or whether the petitioner had already been granted entry as a lawful permanent resident, refugee or asylee.

Thuraissigiam did not have rights to habeas review greater than those granted in the statute, Alito said. His majority opinion overturned a ruling for Thuraissigiam by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at San Francisco.

Applying the suspension clause to allow habeas in Thuraissigiam’s case would extend the writ far beyond its scope when the Constitution was drafted and ratified, Alito said.

“Habeas has traditionally been a means to secure release from unlawful detention, but respondent invokes the writ to achieve an entirely different end, namely, to obtain additional administrative review of his asylum claim and ultimately to obtain authorization to stay in this country,” Alito said.

While Thuraissigiam isn’t claiming an entitlement to release, “the government is happy to release him—provided the release occurs in the cabin of a plane bound for Sri Lanka,” Alito wrote.

Thuraissigiam had also argued that he had a due process right to judicial review of his asylum claim. The majority disagreed.

“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.

Alito said that Thuraissigiam doesn’t have greater due process rights just because he “succeeded in making it 25 yards into U.S. territory before he was caught.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented in an opinion joined by Justice Elena Kagan. The opinion argued that the court “abdicates its constitutional duty and rejects precedent extending to the foundations of our common law.”

Hat tip to SCOTUSblog.

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