On Tuesday, the United States Supreme Court decided along party lines, finding that the federal government can hold some immigrants and refugees indefinitely as they await prospective entrance into 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 decision that demonstrated the court’s conservative majority, justices decided that migrants who had previously been deported may be detained indefinitely if they re-entered the country. Such imprisonment may continue months in some situations.
According to existing immigration law, “those aliens are not entitled to a bond hearing while they pursue withholding of removal.” wrote Justice Samuel Alito for the opinion.
In a dissent supported by Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, Justice Stephen Breyer said that there is no need to detain migrants without giving them the opportunity to be freed for a hearing that may take more than a year to come.
“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.”