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Supreme Court hears arguments in landmark asylum case

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on Mar. 2 over the rights of asylum seekers and other vulnerable noncitizens to receive judicial review over expedited deportation orders.

The debate before the nation’s highest court follows a ruling last fall by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that the U.S. Constitution guarantees that individuals deprived of liberty must receive their day in court.

The case focuses on a Sri Lankan immigrant

The appeals court ruling acknowledges that U.S. immigration laws and the Constitution guarantee vulnerable people seeking asylum a fair process to prove their claims for protection. However, the Trump administration challenged the ruling.

The case involves Vijayakumar Thuraissigiam, who fled his home in Sri Lanka in 2016. Thuraissigiam is a member of an ethnic minority that has been targeted by the Sri Lankan government with well-documented instances of beatings, torture and even death.

Thuraissigiam denied asylum despite credible fear

As with others pursuing asylum, Thuraissigiam was interviewed by an immigration official to determine whether credible fear existed if he returns to his home. Congress intentionally set the bar low in these cases to ensure that a more extensive hearing is scheduled in federal court before deportation orders are carried out.

If the asylum officer does not believe credible fear exists, a denial is recommended, and the only appeal available is in front of an immigration judge, who is an agent of the Department of Justice. These hearings are typically hurried and follow the agent’s decision. In Thuraissigiam’s case, the officer believed his story but was unfamiliar with Sri Lanka’s history of civil rights violations. The judge agreed with the officer’s recommendation to deny asylum, and Thuraissigiam was marked for expedited deportation.

The Supreme Courts ruling will have far-reaching effects

The stakes are high for millions of asylum seekers and other noncitizens, many who have built their lives in the U.S. for decades. If justices uphold the appeals court ruling, Thuraissigiam and others like him will be allowed to make their case before a neutral federal judge and receive a fair shot at asylum. If the court overturns the decision, the immigration decisions of executive branch officials and their agents will likely be excluded from judicial review.

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