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April 17, 2017

Supreme Court Upholds Flawed Ruling Against Asylum Seekers

New York City — Human Rights First today expressed serious concern that the Supreme Court declined to hear the case of Castro v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, leaving in place the Third Circuit’s ruling that denies 28 asylum seekers detained in Berks County, Pennsylvania the ability to challenge in federal court “expedited removal orders” issued by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). 

“It is alarming that the Supreme Court has passed on the opportunity to correct this deeply flawed ruling which denies due process to mothers and children who are seeking this country’s protection. These families, who have sadly been held in immigration detention for over a year after requesting this country’s protection, face dire risks of danger in their home countries. The United States should not return these families to danger,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer

The plaintiffs in the case are 28 women and 33 children from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala who fled to the United States to seek asylum, escaping extreme violence and threats in their home countries. These families were placed in expedited removal proceedings and were sent to the “family” immigration detention facility in Berks, Pennsylvania where they have been held for over a year. The families were determined to not meet the “credible fear” screening standard, and as a result, were blocked from even applying for asylum in the United States. The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit denied the families’ access to a federal court hearing.

Human Rights First has long argued that the expedited removal process, which gives immigration officers the authority to order non-citizens who are subject to that process deported without a hearing, is flawed. Asylum seekers processed under expedited removal must pass a “credible fear” interview with an asylum officer before they are allowed to file for asylum before an immigration judge. Asylum seekers who go through these interviews are often traumatized and exhausted by their experiences in their home countries, their flight to the United States, and their arrest by U.S. authorities. They may be interviewed by telephone by an officer they cannot see and are at the mercy of interpretation problems and other arbitrary factors that hinder communication, including anxiety about minor children detained with them.
 
This ruling will have grave consequences not only for these families, but also for many other asylum seekers whose lives are at risk due to the lack of effective safeguards in expedited removal processing. The expedited removal process is riddled with deficiencies that leave vulnerable refugees at risk of deportation back to persecution," said Acer.

Human Rights First continues to urge DHS to limit its use of expedited removal and to effectively implement measures included in the process in order to identify and properly refer asylum seekers.  President Trump however, in his January 25 executive order, has proposed expanding the use of expedited removal even further.   

In 2008 the Supreme Court recognized that the Suspension Clause applied to non-citizens being detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who had been designated by the U.S. government as “enemy combatants.”  The Third Circuit’s decision in this case, issued In August of last year, also held that the Suspension Clause of the U.S. Constitution—which allows Congress to suspend the writ of habeas corpus only in very limited circumstances not present here—does not apply to the women at Berks because they were taken into custody by U.S. immigration authorities soon after entering the United States with their children. This mistaken approach runs contrary to Supreme Court precedent.   

“This was a missed opportunity for the Court to make clear that the federal courts are essential checks on the executive branch and that U.S. immigration agencies must effectively implement measures to protect asylum seekers.” Acer added.    

For more information or to speak with Acer contact Mary Elizabeth Margolis at margolisme@humanrightsfirst.org.