Supreme Court Increases Government’s Power to Detain Immigrants


Credit: chinaface

(Español) The Supreme Court has ruled that the government can detain legal immigrants who have committed crimes without a guaranteed bond hearing, even if years have passed since the original offense. The court voted 5-4 allowing government officials to continue arresting “deportable criminal aliens” at any point after a criminal conviction, even if the immigrant has finished their sentence. Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito referenced previous rulings the court has made in which they consistently decided “an official’s duties are better carried out late than never.” The dissenting opinion, written and delivered by Justice Stephen Breyer, indicated the dissent’s opinion that the ruling granted the government too much power to detain people without bail “unless the individual is detained when released from criminal custody,”  adding:

“In deciphering the intent of the Congress that wrote this statute, we must decide — in the face of what is, at worst, linguistic ambiguity — whether Congress intended that persons who have long since paid their debt to society would be deprived of their liberty for months or years without the possibility of bail…We cannot decide that question without bearing in mind basic American legal values: the Government’s duty not to deprive any ‘person’ of ‘liberty’ without ‘due process of law,’ “

The cases at the center of the ruling involved two legal immigrants who were initially convicted of a minor drug charge. Years after their cases were resolved, both were arrested by immigration officials and were forced to fight their case before the immigration court. Both won their deportation cases and continue to live in the United States.

Widely seen as a win for the Trump administration and their hard line immigration stance, the Obama administration also defended the practice of detaining immigrants after their convictions. Both administrations argued the government has the authority to detain an immigrant for removal at any point. Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU),  who represented both the immigrants in the case, noted the court has decided on the “most extreme interpretation of immigration detention statues, allowing mass incarceration of people without any hearing, simply because they are defending themselves  against a deportation hearing.” The ACLU has pledged to continue to fight what they see as an “overuse of detention” in the country’s immigration system.