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Supreme Court Decision Strips Asylum Seekers of Right to Appeal

In a surprising ruling on Thursday, the Supreme Court reversed a lower court decision to allow asylum seekers to appeal their removals. The case involves a Sri Lankan farmer named Vijayakumar Thuraissigiam who was seeking asylum from his home country. By stripping asylum seekers of this right, the Supreme Court hands a major win to the Donald Trump Administration.

Some seven justices sided with the Department of Homeland Security in the case. However, only five signed to the majority opinion. Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, John Roberts, and Samuel Alito, the court’s conservative wing, were signed to the majority. Alito wrote the majority opinion.

Asylum Seeker Laws

Asylum seekers are immigrants to the US who are undocumented but make the claim that they are fleeing persecution in their country of origin.

In the case of Mr. Thuraissigiam, he was fleeing Sri Lanka following an incident when a group of men appeared on his farm and savagely beat him. US officials picked him up a few miles north of the Mexican border and he appealed as an asylum seeker.

Following this, an asylum official, an immigration judge, and a supervisory officer reviewed his case, as is standard. They found that Mr. Thuraissigiam didn’t give a sufficient explanation of how he was seeking asylum and denied his appeal.

In response, his ACLU lawyers filed suit on his behalf in US courts. Lower courts sided with Mr. Thuraissigiam, but the Department of Homeland Security continued appealing the case until it made its way to the Supreme Court.

Court’s Reasoning

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority opinion, finding that asylum seekers shouldn’t be able to appeal their cases to federal courts. Justice Alito feared that this situation could cause a dramatic slowdown for other cases, and open a back door for a secondary path to legal citizenship.

He wrote that Mr. Thuraissigiam “does not want ‘simple release’ but, ultimately, the opportunity to remain lawfully in the United States.”

Going further, Alito wrote, “If courts must review credible-fear claims that in the eyes of immigration officials and an immigration judge do not meet the low bar for such claims, expedited removal would augment the burdens on that system.”

This means, essentially, that the courts could become inundated with such claims, according to Alito. Lawyers for the ACLU felt differently, believing the courts were essentially closing the door to asylum seekers with this ruling. By closing out the opportunity to appeal, the ACLU argues, the Supreme Court is leaving many asylum seekers at the whims of their countries of origin.