Law & the Courts

Supreme Court Sides with Trump Admin. in Landmark Asylum Case

The U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. (Will Dunham/Reuters)

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Trump administration on Thursday in a landmark immigration case involving the asylum process.

In the case, Dept. of Homeland Security v. Thuraissigiam, the court ruled 7-2 that if an asylum seeker is denied asylum during the beginning of the intake process, the applicant may not appeal that decision in federal court. The ruling also defines how the right to habeas corpus is applied to asylum seekers.

The case was brought by Vijayakumar Thuraissigiam, a Sri Lankan national and ethnic Tamil who fled the country after he was blindfolded, beaten, and abducted by unknown assailants. Thuraissigiam sought asylum in the U.S. His claim was rejected because he did not know the identity of his attackers and therefore could not establish a credible threat of persecution.

Thuraissigiam subsequently filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, saying that his experience was similar to instances of persecution against Tamils in Sri Lanka.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the opinion that Thuraissigiam’s request for “relief falls outside the scope of the common-law habeas writ.”

In addition, the court ruled that asylum seekers detained inside the U.S., including Thuraissigiam who was detained 25 yards inside the border, should be treated the same as people detained at the border itself. This means that the government is entitled to reject asylum applications at the intake level, without appeal, for foreigners who are detained anywhere inside U.S. borders.

Liberal Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined the majority ruling, but wrote that they believed the ruling only applied in Thuraissigiam’s case.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented, with Sotomayor writing, “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.”

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Zachary Evans is a news writer for National Review Online. He is a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces and a trained violist.


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