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Supreme Court Rejects Bail Hearings for Jailed Immigrants

WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that a federal law does not require immigrants detained for long periods while battling deportation to be heard to decide whether they can be released on bail as their cases progress.

The ruling will affect thousands of immigrants detained for many months as their cases are decided by immigration courts facing long backlogs.

Seven judges joined the majority opinion of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, which was strongly focused on the words of the relevant law. Judge Stephen G. Breyer expressed a partial contradiction.

The court disregarded what the Constitution had to say about the lengthy detentions of immigrants, and left that question for another day.

The case involved Antonio Arteaga-Martinez, a citizen of Mexico who has repeatedly illegally entered the United States, fleeing what he believes was gang violence against him and his family. After he was arrested in 2018, an asylum officer made a preliminary determination that he had a reasonable fear of prosecution if he were returned to Mexico.

Mr Arteaga-Martinez was detained while he waited for an immigration judge to consider his request to stop his deportation. After four months without a hearing, he challenged his detention in federal court, saying an immigration judge would have to decide whether he should be released while his case continues because he posed neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community.

Lower courts ruled in his favor. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Philadelphia, said immigrants in Mr. Arteaga-Martinez’s position were entitled to bail hearings after six months in custody.

An immigration judge ordered his release. The federal government requested a Supreme Court review, saying the governing statute did not require bond hearings for immigration judges.

Judge Sotomayor agreed, writing that “there is no plausible construction of the text” of the statute in question “which obliges the government to hold hearings before immigration judges after six months of detention, with the government bearing the burden of proof by clearly and compelling evidence that a non-citizen incarcerated poses a flight risk or a danger to the community.”

She added: “On the face of it, the statute says nothing about immigration judge hearings or burden of proof, nor does it give any other indication that such proceedings are required.”

The federal government is free to organize hearings, Judge Sotomayor wrote, but the statute in question is not required to do so.

The statute was the subject of a 2001 decision, Zadvydas v. Davis, which ruled that the government should not hold immigrants indefinitely if no country is willing to accept them. If deportation was not likely in the “reasonably foreseeable future,” Judge Breyer wrote before the majority in the 5-to-4 decision, immigrants should be released unless there is good reason to detain them.

On Monday, Judge Sotomayor wrote that lower courts should consider whether Zadvydas’ decision helped Mr Arteaga-Martinez.

In a unanimous opinion, Judge Clarence Thomas wrote that “we must put Zadvydas aside as soon as possible.”

In a partially dissenting opinion, Judge Breyer wrote that “Zadvydas determines the outcome here” and urged the lower courts to rule that it requires the bail hearing in the case, Johnson v. Arteaga-Martinez, No. 19-896.

A second case ruled on Monday, Garland v. GonzalezNo. 20-322, ruled on a related question, saying that incarcerated immigrants could not associate in class actions to obtain subpoenas requiring periodic hearings.

Writing for the majority, Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. said a federal statute did not allow lower federal courts to issue injunctions that would provide relief to an entire class of plaintiffs.

Judge Sotomayor wrote, in partial dissent, that majority opinion would not deprive detained immigrants meaningful access to the courts.

“The consequences of the court’s mistakes should not be ignored,” she wrote. “Property today risks depriving many vulnerable non-citizens of any meaningful opportunity to protect their rights.”

It makes no sense, she wrote, to demand individual legal proceedings.

“Class disputes not only enable individual group members to enforce their rights against powerful actors,” she wrote, “but also advance the judicial economy by eliminating the need for duplication of proceedings involving each group member.”

Judge Elena Kagan agreed with all of Judge Sotomayor’s partial dissent, and Judge Breyer much of it.

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