In case involving Sri Lankan, Justices to review quick removal of some migrants

A man exits the transit area after clearing immigration and customs on arrival at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia, U.S., September 24, 2017. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan/Files

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court said Friday it will review a lower court decision that hinders the Trump administration’s desire to more quickly deport undocumented immigrants after their requests for asylum have been denied.

The case concerns “expedited removal,” a procedure approved by Congress in 1996. Currently, it provides quick removal of thousands of people who are arrested within 100 miles of the border, less than two weeks after arrival, when U.S. officials do not find they make a credible case that they would be persecuted if returned to their home countries.

But in the case at hand, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit said the Constitution gives a man from Sri Lanka more of a chance to make his case to a federal judge. Vijayakumar Thuraissigiam is being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.

“The expedited removal process provides drastically truncated administrative procedures, and virtually no judicial review of purely legal claims, and even of claims that the removal would violate the Constitution,” wrote ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt. “By comparison, noncitizens placed in regular removal proceedings are afforded a full immigration hearing, an administrative appeal, and judicial review on a petition for review to the federal court of appeals.”

The Trump administration, which wants to expand the expedited removal process to apply to even more undocumented immigrants, asked the Supreme Court to review the 9th Circuit’s decision. The effect of the 9th Circuit’s ruling, Solicitor General Noel Francisco told the court, would be to delay removal of aliens such as Thuraissigiam, “preventing expedited removal of such aliens from being expedited at all and undermining the government’s ability to control the border.”

The case does not directly concern the administration’s efforts to enhance the expedited removal program to include aliens who have been in the United States as long as two years and could be anywhere in the country. A federal judge has blocked that initiative while litigation continues.

Thuraissigiam fled Sri Lanka after he said a gang of men beat him so severely he was hospitalized in 2014. He crossed into the United States near the San Ysidro Port of Entry in California and was almost immediately picked up about 25 yards north of the border. He says he is an ethnic Tamil and would be subject to persecution should he be returned to Sri Lanka.

The government contends he was unable to show that he was targeted. At an interview with an asylum officer, Thuraissigiam “did not know who the men were or why they had beaten him, that they had not said anything to him and never identified themselves.”

The officer said Thuraissigiam “provided no testimony indicating that he was or will be targeted because of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”

Still, Thuraissigiam’s lawyers said he deserved the right to challenge that administrative decision before a federal judge. The 9th Circuit agreed, saying its ruling was consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision in 2008 that gave such a right to those being held at Guantánamo Bay, the U.S. naval base in Cuba where those suspected of involvement with terrorism are held.

After the court accepted the case Friday, Gelernt said in a statement, “It is a foundational principle of our Constitution that individuals deprived of their liberty have access to a federal court – this includes asylum-seekers whose lives are in danger.”

The case is Department of Homeland Security v. Thuraissigiam.



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