Supreme Court Overturns 9th Circuit (Again), This Time on Immigration

Immigrants who have committed crimes can be detained, deported…

Supreme Court: Broad Immigrant Detention Powers Are Legitimate

Samuel Alito/photo by Embassy of Italy in the US (CC)

(David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times) WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the Trump administration’s power to arrest and hold immigrants indefinitely if they have past crimes on their records that could trigger deportation, even if they had served time years ago for minor drug offenses.

The justices, by a 5-4 vote, agreed that Congress authorized mandatory detention of noncitizens who were subject to deportation because they had committed crimes ranging from violent felonies to drug possession. And they may be taken into custody by immigration agents long after they had been released from state or local custody.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., speaking for the court’s conservatives, said Congress in 1996 gave federal authorities broad power to arrest and hold noncitizens for past crimes, and they were given no right to seek release on bail.

The decision overturns a ruling of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals which had extended bail hearings and possible release to immigrants who had served time for their crimes and were living and working in their communities.

The legal dispute turned on a provision of the law that said the mandatory federal detention was triggered “when an alien is released” from state prison or local jail. Based on that clause, the 9th Circuit judges said the mandatory detention rule did not apply to immigrants who had been released months or years earlier.

The high court heard arguments on the case in mid-October the same week that Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh took his seat. He spoke up in defense of the Trump administration’s view that the law was intended to authorize federal agents to arrest and hold immigrants with past crimes on their records regardless of when they were released. He questioned whether “we should be putting in a time limit” on taking immigrants into custody.

Both sides in the case agreed that the mandatory detention rule applied both to immigrants who were in the country legally as well as to those here illegally.

Early last year, the high court broadly upheld the government’s power to detain immigrants in jail for months or years as they fight deportation. In a 5-3 decision, the court ruled federal law gave these detainees no right to a bail hearing and a chance to go free. The decision, in Jennings vs. Rodriquez, did not resolve whether this indefinite detention rule was constitutional. Dissenting, Justice Stephen B. Breyer emphasized that the Constitution says “no person shall be … deprived of liberty” without due process of law, which he said requires a hearing.

The case decided Tuesday, Nielsen vs. Preap, was a follow-up to last year’s ruling and is more limited in its scope. It involved only detained immigrants who had been earlier released from custody. The practice of detaining such immigrants in effect under President Obama but accelerated under Trump.

Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union had brought a class-action suit in California on behalf of lawful immigrants who faced mandatory detention long after they had been released for relatively minor crimes.

Eduardo Padilla, one of the named plaintiffs, came to the United States in 1966 as an infant and became a lawful permanent resident in the Sacramento area. He has five children and six grandchildren, all of whom are U.S. citizens. Padilla had two convictions for drug possession, in 1997 and 1999, and served 90 days in jail in 2002 for having an unloaded pistol in a shed.

In 2013, federal agents arrested him for those past crimes and held him for deportation. But he went free after the 9th Circuit court ruled the “mandatory detention” provision did not apply to immigrants such as Padilla. He was released on a $1,500 bond because a judge decided he did not present a danger and was not likely to flee.

The lead plaintiff in the case, Mony Preap, had come from Cambodia as a child and been a lawful resident since 1981. He was taken into custody for two convictions for possessing marijuana in 2006, but an immigration judge later canceled his deportation and he was released.

©2019 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.