Sri Lankan Fighting Deportation Will Get High Court Audience

WASHINGTON (CN) — Jailed, beaten and tortured for political activity during the Sri Lankan civil war, Vijayakumar Thuraissigiam’s case for U.S. asylum was taken up Friday by the Supreme Court. 

The Department of Homeland Security is asking the high court to reverse after the Ninth Circuit told Thuraissigiam in March that he could appeal a deportation order.

At oral arguments before the federal appeals court last year, the American Civil Liberties Union said the importance of Thuraissigiam’s position could not be overstated. 

“The Supreme Court has never in the history of this country allowed someone who has entered the country to be removed without review of his legal claims,” Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said at the time, arguing before a panel in Portland, Oregon. 

Thuraissigiam was arrested in 2017 just 25 yards north of the U.S.-Mexico border. Relegated to a San Diego detention center, on track for expedited removal, Thuraissigiam brought a habeas petition after Customs and Border Protection told him that he had failed to show credible fear of persecution during an interview with officers.

Citing evidence that Tamils in Sri Lanka are subject to torture, Thuraissigiam said removal would violate his statutory, regulatory and constitutional rights.

A federal judge dismissed the petition for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, but the Ninth Circuit reversed 3-0.

“The district court has jurisdiction and, on remand, should exercise that jurisdiction to consider Thuraissigiam’s legal challenges to the procedures leading to his expedited removal order,” Senior U.S. Circuit Judge A. Wallace Tashima, a Nixon appointee, wrote in March.

In its petition to the justices, Homeland Security emphasized that the Supreme Court has repeatedly drawn a line between a noncitizen who lawfully entered the U.S. and those who “entered the country clandestinely, and who has been here for too brief a period to have become, in any real sense, a part of our population.”

The argument takes aim at Thuraissigiam’s attempt to distinguish himself from noncitizens who apply for entry into the U.S. because he is already inside the country.

“In particular, a contrary rule would create a perverse incentive for aliens to cross the border surreptitiously rather than presenting themselves for inspection at a port of entry,” the petition states.

Neither the ACLU nor the Department of Homeland Security have responded to requests seeking comment on Friday.

Per its custom, the court granted the writ of certiorari in Thuraissigiam without issuing any comment.

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