12:06, June 25 213 0 theguardian.com

2020-06-25 12:06:03
Trump’s power to deport asylum seekers boosted by supreme court ruling

The supreme court ruled Thursday that the US government can deport some people seeking asylum without allowing them to make their case to a federal judge.

The ruling is a victory for the Trump administration, which has relentlessly attacked the asylum process.

The 7-2 ruling by the nine judges will affect thousands of asylum seekers who no longer are entitled to habeas corpus, which protects people from unlawful imprisonment.

Under a 1996 law, people who fail their initial asylum screenings, a credible fear interview, are placed in a system of expedited removal. Expedited removal was used infrequently until there was a dramatic increase in Central American immigrants during the Obama administration. The Trump administration used the process at an even higher rate and has sought to expand its power.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorney Lee Gelernt, who argued the case, said in a statement: “This 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.

“This decision means that some people facing flawed deportation orders can be forcibly removed with no judicial oversight, putting their lives in grave danger.”

The justices ruled in the case of Vijayakumar Thuraissigiam, who said he fled persecution as a member of Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority and was arrested soon after he crossed the US border from Mexico. He told an asylum officer he had been abducted and beaten by men in Sri Lanka, and spent 11 days in the hospital because of the injuries.

The immigration officer believed Thuraissigiam, but rejected his application because he could not identify his attackers or establish their motives. This put Thuraissigiam into expedited removal, a decision he challenged in federal court.

A lower court ruled in his favor, but the supreme court’s ruling reversed that decision.

The administration has made dismantling the asylum system a centerpiece of its immigration agenda, saying it is rife with abuse and overwhelmed by meritless claims.

Because fraudulent claims are not tracked, this requires selective interpretation of government data.

Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the majority opinion, provoked anger among immigration attorneys and advocates because he cited Trump administration documents to support an argument that most asylum claims are meritless.

This ignores the complexity of the asylum process, which has grown more complicated under the Trump administration.

In the dissent, justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was joined by Elena Kagan, wrote: “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.”

Katharina Obser, senior policy advisor at the Women’s Refugee Commission, tweeted: “So so terrible. When someone doesn’t win asylum or even isn’t found to have credible fear it does not - especially in today’s broken, destroyed system - automatically mean that their claim was meritless. This takes for granted that the system is fair - it isn’t.”

Other changes the Trump administration has made to the asylum process include making asylum-seekers wait in Mexico while their cases wind through US immigration court, denying asylum to anyone on the Mexican border who passes through another country without first seeking protection there, and flying Hondurans and El Salvadorans to Guatemala with an opportunity to seek asylum there instead of the US.

The UN said more people sought asylum in the US in 2017 than anywhere else, with most people fleeing violence, poverty and the effects of the climate crisis in Central America.