US Supreme Court to re-hear immigrant detention rights case


Washington (AFP)

The US Supreme Court said Monday that it would re-hear a case on the rights of detained immigrants, weighing whether they can be held indefinitely without being offered bail.

The case could be crucial in the Trump administration's crackdown on illegal immigration and its efforts to deport legal immigrants with criminal records.

The decision to essentially re-try the case suggested justices may have been deadlocked four to four, and that conservative justice Neil Gorsuch, newly added to the court by President Donald Trump, could be the swing vote in deciding whether immigrants have protections from indefinite detention.

The court first heard arguments over the pivotal case in November amid a crackdown on illegal immigration by president Barack Obama's government.

But the case has taken on more weight under Trump, who has pledged to arrest and expel legal immigrants with crime records.

With immigration court cases averaging around 670 days, and conditions in detention centers facing criticism, the authorities have been forced to acknowledge detainee rights issues.

In the original class action suit, brought in the name of two immigrants held for long periods with no hearing, a district court and an appeals court ruled they should have rights similar to citizens who are guaranteed protections against indefinite detentions.

The case cited the experiences of two key plaintiffs. One was Alejandro Rodriguez, who arrived from Mexico as a child and attained legal permanent resident status.

After he was convicted for driving a stolen car and arrested for drug possession, the authorities sought to deport him, and he was held for three years without a hearing.

The other was Ahilan Nadarajah, a Sri Lankan who sought asylum in the United States in 2001 but ended up in detention for four years and five months due to secret evidence claiming he was a Tamil separatist fighter.

Both eventually were allowed to stay in the country, but their cases became the core of a lawsuit representing many others in the same situation and backed by rights groups.

Ruling for the plaintiffs, lower courts suggested that such detainees should be given bond hearings every six months, and released if shown not to be a flight threat.

The Obama government challenged the case to the Supreme Court, arguing that such people already have certain rights to protect them and that expanding those rights requires Congress to act with new legislation, not a court ruling.