In 1996, Congress passed a law essentially barring asylum-seekers from accessing U.S. courts to appeal the decisions of asylum officers and immigration judges on their case. However, as was established in this unanimous ruling by the U.S. 9th Circuit court of Appeals, these limitations are unconstitutional.
Writing for the unanimous court, Judge A. Wallace Tashima argued in the 48-page ruling that that law offered “meager procedural protections” to asylum seekers and that it prevents further review of whether the rejection of an asylum claim was based on proper legal standards.
“We think it obvious that the constitutional minimum … is not satisfied by such a scheme,” he wrote.
“The historical and practical importance of this ruling cannot be overstated,” emphasized Lee Gelernt, Deputy Director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights project. The ruling stands to provide relief to thousands of asylum seekers, allowing them to turn to the federal court system to review their cases.
“This decision reaffirms the Constitution’s foundational principle that individuals deprived of their liberty must have access to a federal court,” Gelernt continued.
Because of this impact, many observers expect the Trump administration to appeal the decision to uphold its tough stance on immigration enforcement.
The plaintiff in the case is a Sri Lankan man by the name of Vijayakumar Thuraissigiam, who was forced to flee his home country after being subjected to violence for supporting a minority political candidate’s run for office. He claims that Sri Lankan army officers kept him in detention where he was beaten, threatened with death, and tortured – including being dunked in a well to suffocate until he fell unconscious.
Once the opportunity presented itself in 2017, Thuraissigiam fled to the U.S., entering through the U.S. Mexico border at San Ysidro, where he was picked up by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Despite the cruelty of Thuraissigiam’s story, the asylum officer and an immigration judge decided that his fear was not credible, processing him for removal.
While being in Department of Homeland Security custody normally marks the end of a foreigner’s attempt to attain asylum status, the 9th Circuit ruled that Thuraissigiam should be allowed to seek habeas corpus review, citing the “Suspension Clause” in the U.S. Constitution.
Thuraissigiam’s case will be returned to a lower court for hearing.
If you would like to learn more about seeking asylum in the United States or require assistance in having your or a loved one’s asylum case reviewed, the Lyttle Law Firm is ready to help. Call our offices today at (512) 215-5225 to schedule a consultation with immigration attorney Daniella Lyttle.