In a blockbuster decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled last Thursday that the government can fast-track deportations of asylum seekers without first allowing them to have their cases heard in court. This is now the clear law of the land. The lopsided ruling (7-2) is a major victory for the Trump administration, which has been relying on a law passed in 1996, permitting asylum decisions to be made without review by the federal courts.
The case before the Court involved a Sri Lanka asylum seeker, Vijayakumar Thuraissigiam, who said he had been abducted by men working for the Sri Lanka government, blindfolded, transported in a van he believed to be owned by the government and beaten senseless. Thuraissigiam is Tamil, one of the ethnic minority in Sri Lanka that has been historically persecuted.
Thuraissigiam managed to escape and fled Sri Lanka for the U.S. At the border he was questioned about his reasons for coming and was then given an expedited, or fast-track, hearing, before an asylum officer who denied his application for asylum. Thuraissigiam did not have an attorney.
The ACLU took Thuraissigiam’s case and appealed the asylum officer’s decision, arguing that the 1996 law is unconstitutional and that everyone is entitled to their day in court. The Court of Appeals agreed and the Trump administration appealed.
Although disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision, ACLU attorneys say it only applies to people seeking asylum at the border. But don’t expect the Trump administration to agree with that limited application. It is likely the Trump administration will interpret the decision more expansively and begin scheduling fast-track deportations for people already living in the country for up to two years. If it does, it could take years before a case challenging an expanded interpretation winds it way back to the high court.