SCOTUS Rules Asylum Seekers Can’t Challenge Rejection in Court
A 7-2 decision by the highest court in the land is less decisive than the numbers suggest.
WaPo’s Robert Barnes (“Supreme Court agrees with Trump administration on limits on asylum seekers“):
The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that asylum seekers who are turned down by immigration officials do not have a right to make their case to a judge, a win for the Trump administration and its desire to quickly deport people who enter the United States illegally.
The ruling was 7 to 2, although the usual undercurrents of an ideological divide on the court were present. Two of the court’s liberals dissented, and the other two agreed only with the outcome in the specific case.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for the majority, rejected a lower court’s ruling that the Constitution guarantees a “meaningful opportunity” for asylum seekers to make their case to a judge if they are turned down in an initial screening.
Alito said the system set up by Congress weeds out “patently meritless claims” and provides for quickly removing those making them. Most pass their initial screening, he noted, but those who do not have no additional recourse.
At oral argument, the government said that allowing judicial review would prompt a “flood” of requests and place additional burdens on an immigration system already under strain.
The particular case in controversy was not auspicious:
The case involves Vijayakumar Thuraissigiam, who fled Sri Lanka in 2016 and was arrested in 2017 about 25 yards north of the Mexican border in San Ysidro, Calif. He was placed on a track for expedited removal.
That system, which dates to 1996, allows U.S. officials to quickly remove people who have just crossed the border illegally, but it has an exception for those seeking asylum.
Thuraissigiam, a farmer and a member of Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority, described being beaten by strangers in his home country. But an official said he did not establish a credible case that he was persecuted.
Thuraissigiam went to federal court, where a district judge said the law did not entitle him to review. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit disagreed.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, agreed with the court that Thuraissigiam’s claims were too vague to make a credible case for asylum. But they said there was no need for the court to make further decisions that would affect other asylum seekers.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a toughly worded dissent, which was joined by Justice Elena Kagan.
“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,” Sotomayor wrote, adding that “our constitutional protections should not hinge on the vicissitudes of the political climate or bend to accommodate burdens on the judiciary.”
A report by CNN‘s Ariane de Vogue and Priscilla Alvarez (“Supreme Court rules asylum seeker cannot challenge removal“) adds:
The ruling is a win for the Trump administration, which has attempted to dramatically limit who’s eligible for asylum in the US, though it likely won’t have an immediate impact since the vast majority of asylum seekers are currently barred from entering the country following new coronavirus border restrictions.
Currently, undocumented immigrants who are caught within 100 miles of a land border and within 14 days of arrival are subject to an expedited removal process and can be ordered removed without further hearing or review. If the individual seeks asylum, however, he or she is provided additional screening before an asylum officer, a supervisory officer and an immigration judge to determine whether the person has a credible fear of persecution or torture if returned to his or her home country.
“This is a devastating blow to the due process rights of asylum seekers who arrive at our border seeking protection,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel at the American Immigration Council.
The Trump administration wants to include undocumented immigrants anywhere in the US who cannot prove they’ve lived in the US continuously for two years or more. A federal judge has blocked the move but proceedings are ongoing.
“This throws a lot of questions into what rights individuals who have developed strong ties to the community have and whether this decision would undermine those rights,” Reichlin-Melnick said.
The ruling seems an obvious reading of the law in question, the Constitutionality of which was not only not challenged here but was upheld 6-3 by the Supreme Court in Demore v Kim way back in 2003. While most of the Constitution’s provisions apply equally to US citizens and mere “persons” under US jurisdiction, the courts have long held that the government has a legitimate interest in controlling borders and immigration.
Justice Sotomayor is right in the abstract when she declares “our constitutional protections should not hinge on the vicissitudes of the political climate or bend to accommodate burdens on the judiciary.” But this ruling doesn’t preclude suits brought by US citizens or other US entities challenging blanket rules. Indeed, the courts have struck down some of the Trump Administration’s more outrageous policies vis-a-vis asylum seekers and illegal immigrants.
It seems untenable, though, to allow every individual asylum seeker to clog up the courts appealing the administrative decisions of the agency entrusted with making these decisions. But international law that grants asylum seekers a place at the head of the line is naturally going to be abused by “mere” economic migrants. That’s a decision Congress has properly delegated to the executive.