While this case has nothing to do with the alleged “migrant caravan,” it’s likely to be seen in that context.
One of the under-appreciated stalwarts of the Trump Resistance has been the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, generally seen as a San Francisco liberal institution, though it actually represents nine western states and has plenty of Republican appointees. That court has dealt the Trump administration setbacks on border cases and the Muslim travel ban, and they were at it again Thursday on another immigration case. KPIX/CBS SF reports that the three-judge panel ruled Thursday that immigrants ordered to be deported are entitled to an appeal, and that even non-citizens have a constitutional right of habeas corpus.
While national media coverage is presenting this ruling in the context of the so-called “migrant caravan,” this case was not about that at all. (Though the ruling may affect a backlog of more than 800,000 national pending immigration cases.) The appellant here was Vijayakumar Thuraissigiam of Sri Lanka, a Tamil ethnic minority — just like pop star M.I.A.! — who’d been beaten and tortured in his native country. Thuraissigiam did, however, enter the U.S. through the Mexican border after fleeing Sri Lanka. He was arrested a mere 25 yards north of the border at the port of San Ysidro in 2017, ordered to be deported via “expedited removal,” and U.S. asylum officers ruled he did not have a credible fear of persecution if sent home.
Credible fear is a legal standard in these cases, and Trump’s bench appointments are definitely showing much less sympathy immigrants expressing credible fear of returning to their home countries. A Syracuse University database that tracks these sort of things shows that court decisions granting asylum based on credible fear have declined by half over the last year.
ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt, who’d represented Thuraissigiam, was unsurprisingly crowing over the victory. "The historical and practical importance of this ruling cannot be overstated," he writes in a release. "This decision reaffirms the Constitution’s foundational principle that individuals deprived of their liberty must have access to a federal court."
This ruling only applies within the Ninth Circuit, which includes California and eight other western U.S. states. U.S. Justice Department spokesperson Steve Stafford said the Trump administration has “no comment at this time” on whether they’ll appeal this one to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court declined to hear a similar case in 2017 when a Philadelphia Third Circuit decision was appealed to them.