Lawyers for the families sought to challenge their expedited removal proceedings in federal court arguing they face gender-based violence at home, but a Philadelphia-based federal appeals court held that they have no right to judicial review of such claims.
The court's action means the government can continue to deny asylum seekers placed in expedited removal a chance to have their cases heard by federal court.
Justice Neil Gorsuch, who has his first full week on the court starting Monday, did not participate in the decision.
The case, initially brought under the Obama administration, comes as the Trump administration has vowed to more strictly enforce immigration laws.
Originally, 28 mothers and their children entered the US border in Texas in late 2015. They were immediately placed in expedited removal proceedings. Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, they argue they suffered "gender-based violence, including sexual assault, by men from whom they could not escape" and that they were targeted by gangs because "they are single women residing without a male household member to protect them." They sought to challenge their removal proceedings in federal court, arguing that they did not receive substantive procedural rights to which they were entitled.
A federal appeals court ruled against the petitioners, arguing that Congress could deny review for those who have been denied initial entry into the country who were apprehended close to the border. The court essentially treated the petitioners as equal to those who arrived at the border but had not yet entered.
"We conclude that Congress may, consonant with the Constitution, deny habeas review in federal court of claims relating to an alien's application for admission to the country, at least as to aliens who have been denied initial entry or who, like Petitioners, were apprehended very near the border and, essentially, immediately after surreptitious entry into the country," wrote the majority of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
Lee Gelernt, of the ACLU, argued the lower court decision was wrong in part because individuals who have entered the country "cannot be treated as noncitizens arriving at the border and thereby denied constitutional rights, particularly habeas corpus rights."
In court papers, the US government countered that the families were allowed to meet with an asylum officer who held that they had not established a "credible fear of persecution."
Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall argued the lower court got the decision right.
"The court simply held that such aliens may not invoke the Constitution to demand procedural steps or measures regarding their applications for admission beyond those provided by existing statutes and regulations," he wrote.