The United States Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that immigrants waiting for a ruling regarding their citizenship status do not have to have repeated bond hearings.
The ruling opens up the possibility that this class of immigrants could, in essence, be detained indefinitely by immigration authorities.
The 5-3 ruling found that immigrants awaiting status decisions do not have a legal right to bond hearings every six months, repealing an earlier decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. However, the Court did not decide as to whether the U.S. Constitution requires the bond hearings. Instead, the justices opted to allow lower courts to decide the issue.
In writing the majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito said the earlier ruling was grounded on “implausible constructions” of federal immigration rules. Alito was joined in his decision by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch – a group considered the conservative side of the Supreme Court.
“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,” Alito wrote.
The case, Jennings vs. Rodriguez, revolved around a lawful permanent resident, lead plaintiff Alejandro Rodriguez, who was detained for three years without bond hearings during deportation proceedings after he was arrested on minor charges.
Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the dissenting opinion. He was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.
“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 wrote.
Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from the hearing because she was the solicitor general for former President Barack Obama.
The American Civil Liberties Union represented Rodriguez and sharply criticized the decision.
“The Trump administration is trying to expand immigration detention to record-breaking levels as part of its crackdown on immigrant communities,” said Ahilan Arulanantham, the ACLU lawyer who argued the case, 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.”