The case involved an asylum seeker who claims to have been wrongly denied asylum after a "credible fear" hearing before an asylum officer. But U.S. immigration law allows "expedited removal" of recent arrivals caught within 100 miles of the border, providing very limited opportunity to appeal. Now, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that he should have access to a federal court hearing before his deportation.
Vijayakumar Thuraissigiam, a man of Tamil ethnicity from Sri Lanka, was detained near a California port of entry in 2017. He claimed that Sri Lankan intelligence officers kidnapped, beat and tortured him in 2014, then threatened to kill him for his political activities.
After being tortured a second time, he fled the country in 2016. He made his way to the U.S. through Latin America and was arrested just 25 yards inside the border.
An asylum officer denied his asylum claim, rejecting the idea that returning him to Sri Lanka would put him in grave danger of further persecution and torture. In fact, according to Thuraissigiam, the Department of Homeland Security ignored evidence that Tamils in Sri Lanka are tortured.
Generally, a "credible fear" hearing can only be appealed to an immigration judge. This is an employee of the Justice Department who must rule as that agency directs.
Thuraissigiam, however, filed a habeas corpus petition with a federal district court, alleging that expedited removal (quick deportation) would violate his statutory, regulatory and constitutional rights.
The federal district court rejected the habeas corpus petition for lack of jurisdiction. The 9th Circuit held that the district court did have jurisdiction and should review whether the expedited removal process violated Thuraissigiam's rights.
According to the 9th Circuit, the U.S. Constitution guarantees asylum seekers the right to challenge their detention in federal court despite being subject to the expedited removal process.
The rights involved in this case include due process, the right to seek redress from the government, and rights under the Suspension Clause, which protects habeas corpus, a process by which plaintiffs challenge unlawful detentions.
According to a law professor interviewed by the Associated Press, this ruling could slow down deportations among asylum seekers if federal judges prove willing to issue stays of removal, which put a halt to the deportation process.
It is possible that this ruling could apply to others who are detained wrongfully for immigration reasons.
In 2016, the U.S. deported 141,000 people under the expedited removal process. Many, if not the majority, would likely have been asylum seekers.
If you have questions about your rights under U.S. law or the constitution, contact Yew Immigration Law Group. We have years of experience with American immigration law.