The Supreme Court handed the Trump administration a win on Thursday by ruling that asylum-seekers have no right to a federal court hearing before being removed from the U.S.
The 7-2 decision allows the administration to fast-track the removal process, and could affect thousands of immigrants.
At issue was whether a federal immigration law that aims to reduce meritless asylum claims through expedited proceedings violated immigrants’ due process rights under the Constitution.
A majority of justices ruled that Congress had the power to authorize executive agencies to remove asylum-seekers without providing for a hearing in federal court.
"While aliens who have established connections in this country have due process rights in deportation proceedings, the court long ago held that Congress is entitled to set the conditions for an alien’s lawful entry into this country and that, as a result, an alien at the threshold of initial entry cannot claim any greater rights under the Due Process Clause," Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority.
The majority comprised all but two of the court’s more liberal justices, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, who dissented.
The case arose when Vijayakumar Thuraissigiam, a native of Sri Lanka, was detained by U.S. authorities after entering the country from Mexico.
U.S. immigration officials conducted a so-called expedited removal proceeding and determined that Thuraissigiam did not qualify for asylum status because he lacked a “credible fear of persecution” if returned to Sri Lanka.
In federal district court Thuraissigiam filed a petition for habeas corpus relief, a procedure used to challenge the lawfulness of one’s detention. The judge dismissed his claim, finding that U.S. courts lacked the power to intervene in expedited removal proceedings under a 1996 federal statute.
A U.S. appeals court reversed that decision, finding that the statute violated the Constitution’s prohibition on the suspension of habeas corpus. This prompted the Department of Homeland Security’s appeal to the Supreme Court.
The majority opinion found that a removal could be based on the fast-track process, without requiring an additional review by the courts.
In her dissenting opinion, Sotomayor said Congress had blocked the courts from carrying out a lawful judicial inquiry into asylum claims.
"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," Sotomayor wrote. "It increases the risk of erroneous immigration decisions that contravene governing statutes and treaties.”