The United States Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the Trump administration can deport some people seeking asylum without allowing them to make their case to a federal judge.
The court’s 7-2 ruling applies to people who fail their initial asylum screenings, making them eligible for quick deportation, or expedited removal.
The justices ruled in the case of a man who said he fled persecution as a member of Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority, but failed to persuade immigration officials that he faced harm if he returned to Sri Lanka. The man was arrested soon after he slipped across the US border from Mexico.
The high court reversed a lower court ruling in favour of the man, Vijayakumar Thuraissigiam, who was placed in expedited removal proceedings that prohibit people who fail initial interviews from asking federal courts for much help.
Since 2004, immigration officials have targeted for quick deportation undocumented immigrants who are picked up within 100 miles (160km) of the US border and within 14 days of entering the country. The Trump administration is seeking to expand that authority so that people detained anywhere in the US and up to two years after they got here could be quickly deported.
On Tuesday, a federal appeals court threw out a trial judge’s ruling that had blocked the expanded policy. Other legal issues remain to be resolved in the case.
The administration has made dismantling the asylum system a centrepiece of its immigration agenda, saying it is rife with abuse and overwhelmed by meritless claims. Changes include making asylum seekers wait in Mexico while their cases wind through US immigration court, denying asylum to anyone on the Mexican border who passes through another country without first seeking protection there, and flying Hondurans and El Salvadorans to Guatemala with an opportunity to seek asylum there instead of the US.
On Monday, the Trump administration published sweeping new procedural and substantive rules that would make it much more difficult to get asylum, triggering a 30-day period for public comment before they can take effect.
The US became the world’s top destination for asylum seekers in 2017, according to UN figures, many of them Mexican and Central American families fleeing endemic violence.