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Supreme Court: Immigrants can bring CAT claims even in deportation

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The Convention Against Torture (CAT), which refers to the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, can prevent the deportation of immigrants who can show it is more likely than not that they will be tortured if sent back to their home countries.

When someone applies for relief under the CAT, however, they may be turned down by immigration officials if those officials do not believe that the prospect of torture is more likely than not. When an applicant is turned down, can they appeal to the federal courts?

That was the major question before the U.S. Supreme Court recently in the case of Nidal Nasrallah of Lebanon. Nasrallah is a member of a persecuted religious minority known as the Druze. When he was 16, Hezbollah soldiers chased him to the edge of a cliff, shouting and firing guns into the air. He felt he had no choice but to jump. He broke his spine.

Nasrallah had been living in the U.S. until he was convicted in 2013 of selling stolen cigarettes. Although he is a college graduate with no other criminal history, the U.S. government moved to have him deported.

He sought protection against deportation under the CAT. Unfortunately, the government argued that his jump from the cliff had been voluntary. On appeal, the Bureau of Immigration Appeals concluded that the incident did not amount to torture.

Can courts review the question of whether a person is likely to be tortured?

Nasrallah attempted to appeal this ruling to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Unfortunately, the 11th Circuit said that U.S. immigration law barred it from reviewing the immigration courts’ decision.

The government argued that immigrants can’t appeal final deportation orders. It argued that no statute authorizes courts to review CAT claims.

The U.S. Supreme Court has just issued its decision, ruling 7-2 that American immigration law does allow federal courts to review the immigration courts’ decisions, even on factual matters.

It ruled that Congress did not intend to preclude the courts from reviewing CAT petitions, even when accompanied by a final deportation order.

Now, Nidal Nasrallah’s appeal will be sent back to the 11th Circuit for a determination on whether he is likely to be tortured if returned to Lebanon.

If you have questions about U.S. immigration law, contact Yew Immigration Law Group. Attorney Alison Yew is a board-certified specialist in immigration law with years of experience helping people live and work in the United States.