The US Supreme Court ruled 7-2 Thursday in Department of Homeland Security v. Thuraissigiam that asylum seekers can be denied review of their immigration status under the federal habeas statute.
This case came about when Vijayakumar Thuraissigiam was caught crossing the border into the US. He claimed that he was fleeing Sri Lanka and seeking asylum. The case was reviewed by an immigration official, his superior and then an immigration judge, all of whom found that there was not enough credible fear to allow Thuraissigiam asylum. Thuraissigiam then sued for habeas corpus claiming a fear of prosecution because of his Tamil ethnicity and his political views. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that there was a violation of habeas corpus, but in a decision authored by Justice Samuel Alito, the Supreme Court reversed.
The court based its decision on two points: as applied here, 8 USC § 1252(e)(2) 1. does not violate the suspension clause; and 2. does not violate due process.
The suspension clause says that writ of habeas corpus protections will not be suspended unless “when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” It exists with the same protection it did when the constitution was written, and the parties agree that there should not be an extension considered in this case. The court found that without an argument for extending habeas corpus there is no way it can be interpreted that when the constitution was written asylum seekers were considered by the writers.
In addition, the respondent in this case did not ask to be released. Alito stated that the government is not opposed to the release of Thuraissigiam so long as “release occurs in the cabin of a plane bound for Sri Lanka,” which would be equivalent to habeas corpus relief according to the court. Asking for the ability to remain in the US goes further than habeas corpus allows.
The court rejected the due process argument, stating that “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.” Thuraissigiam is not entitled to more due process than what the statute says because he came illegally and was apprehended 25 yards from the illegal access point.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, stating the majority decision goes against the precedent that this court has set. She wrote, “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 believes the decision grants too much power to the executive branch and for that reason she dissented.