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Supreme Court rules immigrants who fear torture can appeal deportations in court

Supreme Court rules immigrants who fear torture can appeal deportations in court
© Greg Nash

Immigrants who are at risk of being tortured if they're returned to their home countries can challenge deportations in federal appeals court, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday.

In a 7-2 decision, the high court rejected the Trump administration's argument that foreigners tagged for deportation have no right to judicial review if their request for relief under the international Convention Against Torture (CAT) is denied.

The decision will allow immigrants who have been convicted of a crime and designated for deportation to make factual challenges in court when the Department of Justice's Board of Immigration Appeals decides that they do not qualify for deportation protection under CAT.

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Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughVermont secretary of State says Kavanaugh's correction still unsatisfactory Kavanaugh corrects opinion in voting case following Vermont official's objection The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump, Biden blitz battleground states MORE wrote a brief 13-page opinion for the majority, dismissing the government's arguments that the law passed by Congress that implements CAT protections prevents potential deportees from going to court.

"It would be easy enough for Congress to preclude judicial review of factual challenges to CAT orders, just as Congress has precluded judicial review of factual challenges to certain final orders of removal," Kavanaugh wrote. "But Congress has not done so, and it is not the proper role of the courts to rewrite the laws passed by Congress and signed by the President."

The challenge was brought by Nidal Khalid Nasrallah, a legal permanent resident who came to the U.S. in 2006. The government moved to deport Nasrallah after he was convicted of buying stolen cigarettes from undercover federal agents and sentenced to a year in prison.

An immigration judge ruled that Nasrallah qualified for a deportation deferral because he's a member of the Druze religious minority, which has been subject to persecution in Lebanon from the militant political group Hezbollah.

The Board of Immigration Appeals reversed the order, saying that Nasrallah had not sufficiently proved that he was at risk of being tortured if he were to be returned to Lebanon. Nasrallah appealed the decision to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that it did not have jurisdiction over the case.

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“Today’s decision guarantees full judicial review of these administrative agency decisions that carry life-or-death consequences,” Nasrallah's lawyer, Paul Hughes, said in a statement. “Now, overworked administrative agencies will not have the final word when an individual claims that he or she is likely to be tortured or murdered following deportation.”

Justices Clarence ThomasClarence ThomasHow recent Supreme Court rulings will impact three battleground states Supreme Court rejects second GOP effort to block mail-ballot extension in North Carolina Supreme Court rejects Trump effort to shorten North Carolina mail-ballot deadline MORE and Samuel AlitoSamuel AlitoHow recent Supreme Court rulings will impact three battleground states Supreme Court rejects second GOP effort to block mail-ballot extension in North Carolina Supreme Court rejects Trump effort to shorten North Carolina mail-ballot deadline MORE both dissented, with Thomas writing in an opinion that the majority is upending Congress's efforts to keep most immigration claims out of federal court.

"As has been the case for decades now, the decisions of this Court continue to systematically chip away at this statute and other jurisdictional limitations on immigration claims, thus thwarting Congress’ intent," Thomas wrote.

--This report was updated at 1:48 p.m.