US Supreme Court To Hear Arguments Over Immigrant Detention Case

By Jude Joffe-Block
November 30, 2016
Jude Joffe-Block/KJZZ
Eloy Detention Center.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments today over whether immigrants facing deportation who are detained for more than six months are entitled to a bond hearing before an immigration judge.

The case is a class action, and one of the class members is Alejandro Rodriguez, a lawful permanent resident who faced deportation due to two criminal convictions in his past, for drug possession and joyriding.

Immigration prosecutors decided Rodriguez had to be detained as he waited for deportation proceedings.

Rodriguez never got a bond hearing, which is when an immigration judge can evaluate whether a detainee must remain in custody or can put down money and be freed until future immigration court appearances.

Instead, Rodriguez was detained for over three years. After he was released, he ultimately won his immigration court case and the right to remain in the country.

The American Civil Liberties Union challenged the government’s policy of detaining certain immigrants without a hearing by filing a class-action suit that included Rodriguez. A federal district court in Los Angeles ruled in their favor, and found that any immigrant detained longer than six months must get a bond hearing in front of a judge.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling last year. As a result, immigrant detainees in all states that fall under the 9th Circuit have been receiving bond hearings. The policy is also in place in the 2nd Circuit.

Cecillia Wang of the ACLU said that when immigrants are detained they have a harder time winning their deportation cases because they are often held in facilities in remote areas where it can be hard to find a lawyer.

“Their families have been destroyed by this, they’ve lost their jobs,” Wang said of long-term detainees. “If you're locked up it's much harder to get hold of the evidence you need to defend yourself and your deportation case.”

But the Obama administration opposes these bond hearings and is appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Jessica Vaughan is with the Center for Immigration Studies and supports the government’s position. She says some immigrants fall under a statute for “mandatory detention” that says they must be detained.

“Providing them with a bond hearing seems to me to be contrary to the law and extending to them protections that Congress never intended to provide,” Vaughan said.

People on both sides of the debate say this issue could take on even more relevance under a Trump presidency, since he has promised to ramp up deportations.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story previously misspelled Jessica Vaughan.