WASHINGTON – The United States Supreme Court has ruled that Caribbean and other nationals in immigration detention — sometimes for years — are not entitled to periodic hearings to decide whether or not they may be released on bail.
The Court ruling is regarded here as mirroring the sharp divisions on immigration policy among lawmakers and members of the public.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for the majority, said the detention of persons seeking asylum or fighting deportation was needed to give immigration officials time “to determine an alien’s status without running the risk of the alien’s either absconding or engaging in criminal activity.”
But Justice Stephen G. Breyer responded that the decision was most likely “the first time ever” that the US Supreme Court had interpreted a US federal law to allow the long-term confinement of people held in the United States and accused of misconduct without an opportunity to obtain bail.
“An ‘opportunity,’ I might add, does not necessarily mean release, for there may be a risk of flight or harm that would justify denying bail,” he said.
The decision came a day after the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal over whether the Trump administration may shut down a programme that shields an estimated 700,000 young, undocumented Caribbean and other immigrants from deportation, complicating legislative efforts to address the issue.
Ahilan Arulanantham, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who represented the immigrants in Tuesday’s case, said he was disappointed by the decision.
“The Trump administration is trying to expand immigration detention to record-breaking levels as part of its crackdown on immigrant communities,” he said.
“We have shown through this case that when immigrants get a fair hearing, judges often release them based on their individual circumstances.”
But Richard A. Samp, a lawyer with the Washington Legal Foundation, which filed a brief for 29 members of Congress supporting a strict interpretation of the immigration laws, said the decision was a victory for public safety.
“When Congress determines that the best way to prevent aliens convicted of felonies from repeating their crimes is to lock them up until they can be deported,” he said, adding “lower courts don’t have the authority to second-guess that determination by attempting to rewrite the law.”
In his dissenting opinion, Justice Breyer wrote that “we can, and should, read the relevant statutory provisions to require bail proceedings in instances of prolonged detention without doing violence to the statutory language or to the provisions’ basic purposes.”
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor joined Justice Breyer’s dissent.
In response, Justice Alito said his colleagues were taking extreme liberties with the English language.
“The dissent evidently has a strong stomach when it comes to inflicting linguistic trauma,” Justice Alito wrote. “The contortions needed to reach these remarkable conclusions are a sight to behold.” – CMC