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Supreme Court: Immigrant Detainees, Asylum Seekers Not Entitled to Bond Hearings

Jessica Mason Pieklo

“The Trump administration is trying to expand immigration detention to record-breaking levels as part of its crackdown on immigrant communities."

The Roberts Court on Tuesday ruled that immigrants, including asylum seekers and those with permanent legal status, do not have the same right as virtually all U.S. citizens to periodic bond hearings after they’ve been detained.

Jennings v. Rodriguez is a class action challenge to lengthy immigration detentions that give detainees no opportunity to be released on bond. The case was carried over from last term when the eight members presumably deadlocked on an outcome and ordered the case to be heard again.

Both the Obama and Trump administrations argued that the federal statutes that empower the government to detain immigrants and asylum seekers entering the United States do not require bond hearings while a person’s legal status is being processed. Because immigration courts have massive backlogs, some immigrant detainees and asylum seekers wait years in detention before their legal rights to enter or remain in the country are recognized by the court.

Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who brought the case on behalf of Alejandro Rodriguez and other members of the class, argue that the wait for a bond hearing for those in detention is unconstitutional. They say that immigrant detainees and asylum seekers should have the same right to periodic bond hearings and possible release as most U.S. citizens who find themselves detained by the government. 

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Both a lower court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and ruled immigrant detainees and asylum seekers can’t be detained indefinitely as the government claimed. The courts held that detainees and asylum seekers have a right to a bond hearing every six months and that, in order to continue to hold detainees, the government must show that the immigrants would pose a danger or become a flight risk if set free.

Tuesday’s ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court reverses those decisions.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the 5-3 opinion, with the other conservative justices forming the majority in finding that the immigration statutes do not require period bond hearings. Justice Elana Kagan recused herself from the case over a month after oral arguments, citing her work as solicitor general during the Obama administration. 

Justice Stephen Breyer read his dissent from the bench, arguing the majority opinion interprets the immigration statutes in a way that raises “grave doubts” about its constitutionality. 

Tuesday’s decision is not the end of the road for the case, however. Cecillia Wang, deputy legal director for the ACLU, said on Twitter that the organization will challenge the statutes for violation of the Constitution’s due process clause.

“The Trump administration is trying to expand immigration detention to record-breaking levels as part of its crackdown on immigrant communities,” Ahilan Arulanantham, an ACLU attorney who argued the Supreme Court case, said in a statement. “We have shown through this case that when immigrants get a fair hearing, judges often release them based on their individual circumstances. We look forward to going back to the lower courts to show that these statutes, now interpreted by the Supreme Court to require detention without any hearing, violate the Due Process Clause.”

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