Washington, March 2: In an argument that alternated between constitutional principles and practical considerations, the Supreme Court considered on Monday whether immigrants seeking asylum may sue in federal court after the authorities deny their requests in summary proceedings.
The case, which concerns the fundamental question of who is entitled to seek habeas corpus, will affect thousands of asylum seekers.
“This court has never before allowed the elimination of judicial review over the legality of deportations,” said Lee Gelernt, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents a Sri Lankan man who was denied asylum.
Several of the court’s more conservative members said there was a poor fit between habeas corpus, which they said was meant to secure release from illegal detentions, and requests to bar the United States from sending immigrants back to their home countries.
“Your client really doesn’t want to be released,” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. told Gelernt. “The government could take him to the airport, give him a ticket and say, ‘You are released,’ and he could leave. That’s not what he wants.”
Justice Elena Kagan said asylum applicants should be entitled to at least modest judicial review. “If he shows certain things,” she said of the immigrant, Vijayakumar Thuraissigiam. “He has a right to asylum. And what he’s trying to get is a hearing that adequately determines whether he can show those things.”
Thuraissigiam, a member of Sri Lanka’s Tamil ethnic minority, was apprehended near the Mexican border near San Ysidro, California. He sought asylum, saying he would face a credible fear of persecution if he were returned to Sri Lanka. His request was considered under “expedited removal” procedures called for by a 1996 law that streamlined asylum applications from people caught near the border and barred courts from reviewing most aspects of the determinations made under the procedures.