Supreme Court Adopts Trump Policy In Case of Illegal Immigrant Detentions

March 19, 2019 by Tom Ramstack
The Supreme Court of the United States in Washington, D.C., on September 25, 2018. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that certain immigrants with previous criminal records can be detained without a right to bail.

The 5-4 ruling is a significant victory for the Trump administration’s hard-line immigration policies but one that is outraging civil rights advocates.

The decision in a lawsuit turned on an interpretation of the detention provision in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. The provision says noncitizens must be arrested “when [they are] released” from police custody on criminal charges and detained without rights to bail until their deportation proceedings conclude.

A lower court ruled the mandatory detention provision applies only when noncitizens are arrested immediately after being released from custody.

“Because Congress’s use of the word ‘when’ conveys immediacy, we conclude that the immigration detention must occur promptly upon the aliens’ release from criminal custody,” says the opinion from the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco.

The Supreme Court reversed the decision, saying immigrants could be arrested and held without a bond if they committed crimes, including minor ones, no matter how long ago they were released from criminal custody.

“The ‘when … released’ clause could not possibly describe aliens in that sense,” said Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., writing for the majority. “It plays no role in identifying for [Customs officials] which aliens [they] must immediately arrest. If it did, the directive in [the provision] would be nonsense.”

The ruling said a possible long delay in arresting the illegal immigrants was irrelevant.

“An official’s crucial duties are better carried out late than never,” the ruling said.

Alito acknowledged that some individual immigrants might have rights to challenge their detentions on constitutional due process grounds.

In a dissent Justice Stephen Breyer said the majority opinion violated basic American values.

Breyer wrote the opinion “runs the gravest risk of depriving those whom the government has detained of one of the oldest and most important of our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.”

Tuesday’s ruling was far from the first time that a majority on the Supreme Court endorsed the Trump administration’s policies on immigration. Last year, the Supreme Court supported the president’s travel ban on visitors from several Muslim-majority nations.

The plaintiffs in the Nielsen v. Preap ruling announced Tuesday included two legal U.S. residents, a Cambodian immigrant convicted of marijuana possession and a Palestinian immigrant convicted of attempting to manufacture a controlled substance.

One of their attorneys was Cecillia Wang, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“For two terms in a row now, the Supreme Court has endorsed the most extreme interpretation of immigration detention statutes, allowing mass incarceration of people without any hearing, simply because they are defending themselves against a deportation charge,” Wang said in a statement. “We will continue to fight the gross overuse of detention in the immigration system.”

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