The U.S. Supreme Court ruled along partisan lines on Tuesday in deciding that the federal government can detain certain immigrants and refugees for an indefinite period of time while they await possible entry to the United States.
In a 6-3 vote, the high court ruled that certain undocumented immigrants have no right to a bond hearing for release while the government weighs claims that they face torture or persecution if they return to their native land.
In a split that displayed the court’s conservative majority, justices voted that migrants re-entering the United States after they’d previously been deported can be held indefinitely. In some cases, such detention could last for months.
Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said current immigration law dictates that “those aliens are not entitled to a bond hearing while they pursue withholding of removal.”
Justice Stephen Breyer, in a dissent joined by Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, argued that there is no rationale to hold migrants without a chance to be released for a hearing that could take more than a year to arrive.
“Why would Congress want to deny a bond hearing to individuals who reasonably fear persecution or torture, and who, as a result, face proceedings that may last for many months or years? I can find no satisfactory answer to this question,” Breyer wrote.
The decision sets a nationwide rule for detention of migrants who have previously been deported, but experts say that amounts to a rather small subset of the total refugee population.
A federal appellate court in Virginia had ruled in favor of the migrants, who argued they should receive a bond hearing for potential release while awaiting the evaluation process.
Tuesday’s decision marked the third time in recent years the high court has overturned lower court rulings that allowed at least some immigrants facing possible deportation to seek release on bond.
Advocates criticized the ruling.
“Horrifying outcome in this case, written by the worst possible justice you could want to write an immigration case,” Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel for the American Immigration Council, tweeted.
“I’m dreading a close read because I guarantee you there is terrible dicta in here.”
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