The U.S. Supreme Court overruled a San Francisco federal appeals court and said that immigrants facing deportation can be held in custody indefinitely while awaiting resolution of their cases.
The decision applies to asylum seekers, undocumented immigrants who are seeking a right to remain in the U.S., and legal permanent residents who were convicted of a crime but have completed their probation or prison term.
In 2013, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that non-citizens in those categories who are held in civil detention by immigration authorities are entitled to a bond hearing every six months to determine whether they are a flight risk or danger to the community.
A six-month bond hearing would be a “minimal procedural safeguard,” a three-judge panel of the appeals court said.
In today’s decision, the Supreme Court overturned the appeals court ruling by a 5-3 vote. One judge, former Solicitor General Elena Kagan, excused herself from the case.
Justice Samuel Alito said in the majority decision that it was “utterly implausible” for the appeals court to have interpreted three immigration laws to find a requirement for bond hearings.
“Nothing in the statutory text imposes any limit on the length of detention,” Alito wrote.
Justice Stephen Breyer said in a dissent that the “basic right of liberty” has been part of American legal principles since the Declaration of Independence.
The case started in federal court in Los Angeles in 2004 by Alejandro Rodriguez, a legal permanent resident who worked as a dental assistant. After he was convicted and placed on probation for a drug offense, immigration authorities sought to deport him. He was detained in immigration custody for three years before he won permission to remain in the U.S.
While saying the 9th Circuit was wrong about interpretation of the immigration laws, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the appeals court for consideration of immigrants’ constitutional due process claims.
American Civil Liberties Union attorney Ahilan Arulanantham, who represented Rodriguez and other immigrants in the 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.”