More Trouble for Undocumented Immigrants and the Suspension Clause

Back in August 2016, I wrote a lengthy post about the Third Circuit’s decision in Castro v. Department of Homeland Security, which held that recently-arrived undocumented immigrants, who are physically but not lawfully within the territorial United States, are not protected by the Constitution’s Suspension Clause—and therefore have no right to judicial review of their detention (or removal). Among many other problems with the Third Circuit’s analysis (see my original post for more), it created the anomalous result that enemy combatants held at Guantánamo, who have never set foot on U.S. soil, have more of an entitlement to judicial review than Central American women and their minor children in immigration detention in the United States who are seeking asylum (the petitioners in Castro).

The one saving grace to Castro was that it was only the law of the Third Circuit—Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and, yes, the U.S. Virgin Islands. But a new case flying almost entirely under the radar in the Ninth Circuit has raised the same issue, and, thus far, has produced results no different from Castro. As I explain in the brief post that follows, if the Ninth Circuit disagrees with the Third Circuit’s deeply problematic reasoning in Castro, and believes that undocumented immigrants seeking asylum have a right to meaningful judicial review of their asylum claim before their removal, it needs to stay the removal of Vijayakumar Thuraissigiam, and use his case to give plenary review to the jurisdictional (and constitutional) question.

Thuraissigiam is a Tamil from Sri Lanka who was tortured in his home country by individuals he has identified as government intelligence officers before fleeing and eventually attempting to enter the United States—surreptitiously—across the U.S.-Mexico border. He was apprehended shortly after crossing the border (on U.S. soil), and then issued an expedited removal order after the government determined (with no judicial review) that he didn’t have a credible fear of persecution if returned to Sri Lanka.

Thuraissigiam attempted to challenge his expedited removal (and the credible-fear determination) through a habeas petition, and also sought an emergency stay of removal pending the disposition of his habeas petition. On March 8, the district court dismissed the petition for lack of jurisdiction, holding that the unavailability of habeas for non-citizens subject to expedited removal did not violate the Suspension Clause, largely because of Castro, the “analysis and ultimate conclusion [of which] are incredibly persuasive to the Court.” And because the court lacked jurisdiction over Thuraissigiam’s habeas petition, it also denied his motion for an emergency stay of removal.

Thuraissigiam appealed to the Ninth Circuit and renewed his motion for an emergency stay of removal. On March 12, a two-judge motions panel (Silverman & Christen, JJ.) denied the motion without meaningful discussion, leaving intact the original appellate briefing schedule (which would have opening briefs due on May 8). Of course, it’s possible that, once the case is fully briefed and argued before a merits panel, the Ninth Circuit will have a full opportunity to consider Castro‘s many flaws—and to hold that the Suspension Clause requires meaningful judicial review of these kinds of asylum claims, even when brought by undocumented immigrants who surreptitiously enter the United States.

The problem is that the case may well be moot by then, as, without a stay of removal, Thuraissigiam could well be sent back to Sri Lanka in the interim. And although Thuraissigiam sought reconsideration en banc, the Ninth Circuit’s General Orders only require such requests to be referred to staff attorneys, not to the full court. So it was, late last night, that the two-judge panel noted that the motion for en banc reconsideration was “referred to the Court” and denied.

That leaves emergency relief from Justice Kennedy (or the full Supreme Court) as the only remaining means for Thuraissigiam to stay his removal pending the Ninth Circuit’s resolution of the merits. (The Ninth Circuit could also expedite its consideration of the merits to moot the need for a stay, but it hasn’t yet…) Unless such relief is granted, the Ninth Circuit may never have a proper opportunity to decide whether or not to follow the Third Circuit down Castro‘s rabbit hole. And without such a ruling, it stands to reason that there will be more cases like Thuraissigiam’s, in which Castro serves to practically foreclose review, even if it’s not the law of the relevant circuit.

That’s no way to run a railroad, especially when the result is to send individuals back to countries in which they very well may credibly fear persecution (or worse).

(Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images)

 

About the Author(s)

Steve Vladeck

Co-Editor-in-Chief of Just Security and Professor of Law at the University of Texas School of Law. Follow him on Twitter (@steve_vladeck).