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Supreme Court limits relief for certain detained immigrants

Opinions come in cases related to bond hearings for immigrants who already have been ordered deported

The Supreme Court building in May.
The Supreme Court building in May. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Supreme Court in two opinions Monday limited the ability of certain immigrants to request release after six months in detention facilities, and also limited the ability of lower courts to consider class-action claims from detained immigrants.

In an 8-1 ruling, the high court found that the federal government is not required to give immigrants bond hearings after six months in detention, if those immigrants had already been ordered deported.

The case turned on an immigration law provision that governs the detention of immigrants who have been ordered removed, but not yet deported for various reasons. It was brought by Antonio Arteaga-Martinez, a Mexican citizen who re-entered the U.S. after being deported, and is now requesting humanitarian relief.

Though he has no criminal history, Arteaga-Martinez was detained without bond while the immigration judge considered his request for immigration protections. He was released on bond after lower courts ruled he was required to have a bond hearing.

But Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in the majority opinion Monday, wrote that there “is no plausible construction of the text” of that immigration provision that would require the government to provide bond hearings, where the government would also shoulder the burden of proof.

In such a hearing, an immigration judge considers if the immigrant is a flight risk or danger to the community and eligible to be released.

“On its face, the statute says nothing about bond hearings before immigration judges or burdens of proof, nor does it provide any other indication that such procedures are required,” Sotomayor wrote.

She was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Elena Kagan, Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. Justice Stephen G. Breyer dissented.

Class actions

In a second case also related to bond hearings, the Supreme Court found that lower courts may not consider class-action claims related to immigration detention issues.

That case also was brought by several foreign citizens who were previously deported and are now seeking release from detention while immigration judges considered their requests for protection.

Lower court judges had ordered the government to provide bond hearings not only for these immigrants, but also to other immigrants in similar positions.

But the high court, in a majority opinion written by Alito, ruled the lower court judges had “exceeded their jurisdiction in awarding such relief.”

In a partial dissent, Sotomayor criticized the majority’s opinion as a “blinkered analysis” that “will leave many vulnerable noncitizens unable to protect their rights.”

Sotomayor noted that immigrants facing deportation are less likely to understand the U.S. legal system or be fluent in English, and those fighting from remote detention facilities may have limited access to lawyers.

“It is one matter to expect noncitizens facing these obstacles to defend against their removal in immigration court,” Sotomayor wrote. “It is another entirely to place upon each of them the added burden of contesting systemic violations of their rights through discrete, collateral, federal-court proceedings.”

As a result, the “inevitable consequence of barring classwide injunctive relief will be that those violations will go unremedied,” Sotomayor wrote in the dissent, which Kagan joined and Breyer joined in part.

Potential fallout

Matt Adams, an attorney with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project who argued on behalf of the immigrants in this case, said this high court ruling “has created a significant obstacle for detained immigrants.”

“Without classwide injunctions, most detained immigrants will have no meaningful mechanism to seek relief from policies or practices that they allege violate their rights,” Adams wrote in an email. “This is because most litigation challenging regulations or agency policies drags on for years, and in the meantime there is no opportunity for meaningful relief.”

However, in the first case the high court did not reach Arteaga-Martinez’s claims that bond hearings after six months may be required by the Constitution’s due process clause, explicitly leaving that question open for lower courts to consider.

Pratik A. Shah of Akin Gump, Arteaga-Martinez’s lawyer, said in an email Monday that “we look forward to litigating [those questions] on remand.”

A representative for the Justice Department declined to comment.

The two cases, argued back-to-back in January, marks the latest instance where the Supreme Court has made it harder for detained immigrants to fight to be released while their cases proceed.

In 2019, the high court found that foreign citizens detained under the authority of a different immigration statute do not have the right to bond hearings.

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