One of the thorniest issues in United States immigration law is the status of immigrants who have been detained while awaiting a decision on an application for political asylum. The United States Supreme Court recently clarified this status by voting 6-3 that such individuals are not entitled to a hearing while they await a deportation decision.
The plaintiffs in the case were immigrants who had been deported but re-entered the United States illegally. The individuals were arrested and incarcerated while the courts determined their legal status. With only slight variations, the plaintiffs all stated that they would be subject to persecution or torture if they were forced to return to their native countries. An immigration officer determined that the plaintiffs had a “reasonable fear” for their safety if they were returned to their home countries. The evaluation process that ordinarily follows such declarations can take months or years. The issue presented to the Supreme Court was whether the individuals could be indefinitely incarcerated without submitting their case to an immigration judge.
The justices voted 6-3 that the immigrants had no constitutional right to a hearing. (The 6-3 split reflected the current split between conservative justices and liberal justices.) Writing for the majority, Justice Alito concluded that the immigrants, whom he referred to as “aliens,” were not entitled to a “bond hearing.”
Similar cases have been pending in lower appellate courts, and the current ruling will establish a uniform rule until such time as another case reaches the Supreme Court.
The Court’s ruling leaves immigrants who are awaiting a decision on their deportation status in an uncertain situation. Anyone who is facing deportation or awaiting a hearing on an asylum petition may wish to consult an experienced immigration attorney for assistance.