Supreme Court Ruling: Immigrants Can Be Detained Indefinitely

Washington, D.C.— Immigrants can be indefinitely detained by U.S. immigration officials without a bond hearing, regardless of whether they’re asylum seekers or have permanent legal status, according to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling issued on Tuesday.

NPR reports that the case, Jennings v. Rodriguez, holds significance for legal permanent residents the government seeks to deport due to committed crimes, as well as asylum seekers awaiting a court date after turning themselves in.

The 5-3 decision, with Justice Elena Kagan recusing herself, follows an Obama administration appeal of a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that imposed a requirement that immigrants held in custody must be given a bond hearing every 6 months provided they don’t pose a threat to national security or are considered a flight risk. The appeal was continued by the Trump administration upon him taking office. The majority opinion was penned by Justice Alito and joined by the court’s conservatives.

“To impose a rigid six-month rule like the Court of Appeals did is really a mistake,” Solicitor General Ian Gershengorn said in November.

The Supreme Court affirmed the legality of the government indefinitely detaining immigrants while they attempt to determine whether the individual should be allowed to remain in the United States. Immigration advocates had contended that many of these immigrants have a right to be free on bail prior to their case being heard, which would be impossible if not allowed a bond hearing before a judge.

“Immigration officials are authorized to detain certain aliens in the course of immigration proceedings while they determine whether those aliens may be lawfully present in the country,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion.

The decision by Supreme Court overturned a 2015 decision Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling and returned the case to the 9th Circuit “to consider the question of whether the Constitution requires bond hearings for detained immigrants,” according to Reuters. Subsequently, the case could potentially come back to the high court.

In a reportedly rare move, Justice Stephen G. Breyer read from his dissent:

“We need only recall the words of the Declaration of Independence,” Breyer said, “in particular its insistence that all men and women have ‘certain unalienable Rights,’ and that among them is the right to ‘Liberty.'”

Breyer continued:

Whatever the fiction, would the Constitution leave the Government free to starve, beat, or lash those held within our boundaries?” Breyer argued. “If not, then, whatever the fiction, how can the Constitution authorize the Government to imprison arbitrarily those who, whatever we might pretend, are in reality right here in the United States?

“No one can claim, nor since the time of slavery has anyone to my knowledge successfully claimed, that persons held within the United States are totally without constitutional protection,” Breyer added.

The lead plaintiff in the class-action case, Alejandro Rodriguez, has permanent legal residence and came to the U.S. as an infant, but was convicted joyriding as a teenager and misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance that resulted in him being detained by immigration officials for three years without a bond hearing.