IMMIGRANTS NUMBERING THOUSANDS CAN BE DETAINED INDEFINITELY ACCORDING TO THE SUPREME COURT’S RULINGS
Author: New York Immigration Lawyer Alena Shautsova
As the issue of immigration in the U.S. seems to be a never-ending rigmarole subject, new developments are expected at every turn. Most recently, the Supreme Court ruled that immigrants detained in the United States are not entitled to a bond hearing in certain situations. This ruling means that the thousands of immigrants currently held in detention facilities with open immigration cases can remain in detention indefinitely! It does not apply to all immigrants, but rather to those who already have orders of removal, but cannot depart or have additional hearings that must be conducted.
In addition to the Supreme Court’s ruling, the high court also ruled that federal courts do not possess the legal authority to grant class-wide relief to immigrants held in detention. This means that, if detainees want to petition their right to a bond hearing in the future, they can only present their cases individually. This is coupled with the fact that immigrants are not allowed to have legal representation during immigration proceedings.
The ruling of the Supreme Court seems to maintain the existing state of affairs as it concerns the issue of immigration. Many immigrants are currently detained in facilities that are more like prisons. Many immigrants have not been charged with any crime but do not possess the right to a hearing to justify their detention. Some of the immigrants are held in facilities belonging to for-profit corporations such as Geo Group and a host of others. The Court ruling also maintains that immigrants can’t have a bond hearing unless the U.S. government says so. This means that the U.S. government has the discretionary right to decide the fate of detainees. In other words, it will be up to DHS/ICE if the person is released from the detention or not, and if ICE/DHS does not want to release the person, they can keep them there technically, forever.
These rulings dashes the hopes of immigrants who have been held long enough in detention. The cases which are Johnson v. Arteaga-Martinez and Garland v. Aleman Gonzalez were brought to court by undocumented immigrants who contested they are being held in detention centers for far too long. Their argument was focused on the fact that immigrants who have been held in detention for up to six months or more should be entitled to an individualized bond hearing where the U.S. government has to prove the need for their continued detention.
The immigrants sued the U.S. government while leveraging on a 1996 immigration statute which states that an unauthorized immigrant “may” remain in detention for an extended period if they fail to meet certain criteria. The immigrants argued that since the statute uses “may be detained” instead of “shall be detained,” the right of discretion rests with the judges, hence entitling them to a hearing. The case was further appealed to the Supreme Court where representatives of the Biden administration argued that the law permits the Attorney General of the United States to indefinitely detain illegal immigrants while their cases are undergoing litigation.
Before the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2020 that detainees are entitled to a bond hearing. Since the Garland case was presented as a class-action lawsuit, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a class-wide relief, thereby extending the right to a bond hearing to every person named in the suit.
However, the Supreme Court countered this ruling declaring that detainees are not entitled to such a bond hearing, hence a class-wide relief can’t be granted on that basis. Therefore anybody who wishes to exercise their right to a bond hearing in whatever form has to do it individually.
Certain observers feel that it is a bit unfair not to grant unauthorized immigrants the right to legal representation, whereas criminals in the U.S. are allowed legal representation. “Especially since their only offense is that they are in search of greener pastures,” according to an observer. Leah Litman, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School filed a brief in support of Gonzalez. She holds the opinion that the decision of the Supreme Court is completely unworkable and unrealistic. Furthermore, she asserted, “It makes it impossible to ensure that everyone who is potentially entitled to a bond hearing will get one.”
Aside from being denied a desired fair hearing, immigrants and advocates have since raised an alarm concerning the manner of treatment meted out to immigrants at the detention centers. Several facilities have been accused of abusing detainees. The Irwin County Detention Centre was shut down alongside another in May 2021. A gynecologist was accused of carrying out forced sterilization on the detained women at the Irwin Center.
Matt Adams, the legal director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project who argued the Garland case opines that the decision of the Court raises ethical questions. This is a result of the fact that the ruling contradicts the fundamental principles upon which the U.S system is founded- “that government officials may not lock up a person without at least providing them their day in court to contest whether their confinement is justified.” Although he gives reassurance that the matter will still be pursued as it is not over yet.