In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court held on Tuesday that the U.S. government can detain immigrants with a criminal history even if those individuals have completed their prison sentence for their crimes. According to CNN, the court determined that even if it has been years since someone has been released from custody and has resettled back into society, they can be held by immigration authorities.
The case centers on the question of whether or not a person can be detained years after completing a prison term. The case seeks to clarify the wording of the statute, which currently only says that an individual can be detained “when the alien is released” but doesn’t specify how long after being released.
The court voted along conservative and liberal lines, with the conservative majority led by Justice Samuel Alito determining that detention can occur at any time. Alito explained that it isn’t the court’s job to determine a timeframe for detention and that “an official’s crucial duties are better carried out late than never.”
Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote that it would make no sense to allow aliens to remain free during removal proceedings, which could increase the flight risk.
“The court correctly holds that the Executive Branch’s detention of the particular non citizens here remained mandatory even though the Executive Branch did not immediately detain them.”
Justice Stephen Breyer read the dissenting opinion, which includes Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor, from the bench, a move that is considered to be unusual for the court.
Breyer wrote the dissent, and he's reading it from the bench, which demonstrates just how upset he is. Last term he warned us that SCOTUS' conservatives want to strip immigrants of their constitutional rights: https://t.co/eebL4XPUa0
— Mark Joseph Stern (@mjs_DC) March 19, 2019
“It runs the gravest risk of depriving those whom the Government has detained of one of the oldest and most important of our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms: the right not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law,” he said.
Breyer also said that this case was about more than interpreting the words of the statute but what the limits of power should be for the government.
“It is a power to detain persons who committed a minor crime many years before,” he said. “And it is a power to hold those persons, perhaps for many months, without any opportunity to obtain bail.”
The case focused on two immigrants, a Cambodian named Mony Preap who served time for possession of marijuana and a Palestinian named Bassam Yusuf Khoury who was convicted of attempting to make a controlled substance. The current law says that aliens convicted of specific crimes can be held without bond even after completing their sentences until the deportation process is finalized.