Supreme Court Says Illegal Immigrants Can Be Detained Indefinitely 

The US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on December 4, 2021. (Photo by Daniel SLIM / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images)
DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images

The Supreme Court ruled that illegal immigrants can be detained indefinitely without a bond hearing and federal judges cannot grant immigrants class-wide relief in a pair of opinions issued Monday.

In Johnson v. Arteaga-Martinez, the Supreme Court held that federal immigration law does not require immigration judges to hold bond hearings after six months to determine an immigrant’s eligibility for release. That decision overruled a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruling that upheld a lower court’s order granting the immigrant’s request for a bond hearing.

Bond hearings are when the immigration judge determines if the immigrant is eligible for bond and can be released while their asylum or deportation cases are pending.

Attorneys for the immigrant plaintiffs argued the federal law’s use of the word “may” indicated discretion on behalf of the judge to hold a bond hearing. However, federal government lawyers argued that immigrants are not entitled to a bond hearing.

A Texas DPS helicopter crew guides Border Patrol agents in the Big Bend Sector to a group of 32 camo-wearing migrants. (Texas Department of Public Safety)

A Texas DPS helicopter crew guides Border Patrol agents in the Big Bend Sector to a group of 32 camo-wearing migrants. (Texas Department of Public Safety)

Justice Sonia Sotomayor authored the majority opinion for a near-unanimous decision where the Court agreed with federal government attorneys.

In the 8-1 decision, Sotomayor said the Supreme Court has never “authorized prolonged detention without an individualized hearing, before a neutral adjudicator, at which the detainee has a meaningful opportunity to participate,” except in national security cases.

Group of more than 400 migrants apprehended at Eagle Pass, Texas, border crossing. (U.S. Border Patrol/Del Rio Sector)

Group of more than 400 migrants apprehended at Eagle Pass, Texas, border crossing. (U.S. Border Patrol/Del Rio Sector)

In a similar case, the Supreme Court overruled a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decision that extended the right to a bond hearing to every member of the class action lawsuit.

The Court’s decision in Garland v. Gonzalez means that if immigrants want to assert their right to a bond hearing, they will have to do it on an individual basis, unlike the plaintiffs in the case who filed a class action on behalf of all similarly detained immigrants.

Writing for the 6-3 majority, Justice Samuel Alito said federal law “generally prohibits lower courts from entering injunctions that order federal officials to take or to refrain from taking actions to enforce, implement, or otherwise carry out the specified statutory provisions.”

Both cases were brought by illegal immigrants challenging their detention by U.S immigration officials. As the San Francisco Chronicle noted, “The Biden administration has taken the same position as President Donald Trump’s administration in both cases.”

Biden’s adherence to federal immigration law and his alignment with former President Donald Trump’s judicial arguments has pitted him against his progressive allies on the issue.

The cases are Johnson v. Arteaga-Martinez, No. 19-896, and Garland v. Gonzalez, No. 20-322 in the Supreme Court of the United States.

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