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miércoles, 28 de febrero de 2018

Supreme Court gives Trump broad powers to detain immigrants

A divided U.S. Supreme Court granted U.S. Customs and Immigrations officials broad powers of detention over immigrants awaiting removal proceedings.

In a 5-3 decision, the high court held that immigrants or asylum seekers do not have an automatic right to periodic custody or bail hearings — they may be held indefinitely.

Associate Justice Elena Kagan recused herself due to her brief participation in the case while serving in the previous administration.

Reverses lower court

The decision reverses a prior ruling made by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 9th Judicial Circuit. It held that immigrants being detained pending deportation have right to a status hearing every six months, to give them the opportunity to challenge the legitimacy of their detention.

The detained affected immigrants include:

  • Lawful permanent residents charged with a crime;
  • Those detained at the border seeking entry who might lack valid documentation; and,
  • Those claiming fear of persecution if they return to their home country.

The 9th Circuit based its decision on the Canon of Constitutional Avoidance, a principle that provides that the court “should avoid ruling on constitutional issues, and resolve the cases before them on other (usually statutory) grounds” whenever possible.

Justice Samuel Alito explained that the principle does not apply in this case, since the words of the statute on which the lower court relied did not provide for bail hearings for detained immigrants.

“That is not how the canon of constitutional avoidance works,” Alito wrote. “Spotting a constitutional issue does not give a court the authority to rewrite a statute as it pleases.”

Three-year detention

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought the action on behalf of the plaintiff, Mexican national Alejandro Rodriguez, who was detained for more than three years without being afforded a bail hearing.

He fought deportation despite prior convictions for misdemeanor drug possession and joyriding. He was eventually released from custody and granted the right to remain in the United States.

Rodriguez claimed that the detention without hearings violated his constitutional rights. Alito, writing for the majority, disagreed.

“Detention during those proceedings gives immigration officials time to determine an alien’s status without running the risk of the alien’s either absconding or engaging in criminal activity before a final decision can be made,” he wrote.

Alito also accused the dissenting justices of ignoring the relevant law.

“How does the dissent attempt to evade the clear meaning of ‘detain’? It resorts to the legal equivalent of a sleight-of-hand trick.”

This met with the overwhelming approval of CBS News contributor and conservative podcast host Michael Graham, who tweeted:

Chief Justice John Roberts, Associate Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch joined Alito.


Justice Stephen Breyer, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, argued in a dissent that the plaintiff’s immigration status didn’t preclude the right to a hearing.

“The bail questions before us are technical but at heart they are simple,” Breyer said, in an oral dissent read from the bench. “We need only recall the words of the Declaration of Independence, in particular its insistence that all men and women have ‘certain unalienable rights,’ and that among them is the right to liberty.”

The ACLU claims that only a small percentage of the immigrant claims are settled within six months and that the U.S. detains an average 34,000 immigrants at any one time.

“The Trump administration is trying to expand immigration detention to record-breaking levels as part of its crackdown on immigrant communities,” said ACLU attorney Ahilan Arulanantham, who argued the Supreme Court case. “We have shown through this case that when immigrants get a fair hearing, judges often release them based on their individual circumstances.”

For years, the Left has used the Court as a means of affecting public policy in a manner that was never intended by the founders, and in a way that transcends the Court’s constitutional authority. It’s always heartening to see when that power is reigned back in by a responsible majority on the Supreme Court.