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 screenings, 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 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, California. 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.
Alito was joined in the opinion by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh.
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.”
Thuraissigiam’s lawyer, Lee Gelernt of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement that the decision means “some people facing flawed deportation orders can be forcibly removed with no judicial oversight, putting their lives in grave danger.”
The case is Department of Homeland Security v. Thuraissigiam.