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Immigrants Can Be Detained Indefinitely Under Supreme Court Ruling

The Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma is the largest immigrant prison on the West Coast. (Seattle Globalist/Flickr)
The Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma is the largest immigrant prison on the West Coast. (Seattle Globalist/Flickr)
February 28, 2018

SEATTLE — People waiting for their immigration case to be decided can be held indefinitely, even if they are legal permanent residents or asylum seekers.

In a 5-to-3 decision issued Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on Jennings v. Rodriguez that gave detainees the right to a bond hearing every six months.

People are held an average of 13 months waiting on their cases. However, the Supreme Court also sent the case back to the Ninth Circuit for reconsideration based its constitutional merits.

Enoka Herat, police practices and immigration counsel with the ACLU of Washington state, says her group is disappointed with this decision.

"Something that the dissent pointed out and recognized is that indefinite immigration detention is a severe and unconstitutional deprivation of one's liberty, and the court actually allowed that deprivation to continue in this decision," she says. "But the fight isn't over."

The court wrote that immigration officials have the right to detain people during proceedings to determine if they should legally be in the country. There's a backlog of more than 660,000 cases in immigration courts, including more than 10,000 in Washington state, according to a government data-tracking project by Syracuse University.

Tacoma is home to the Northwest Detention Center, the largest immigrant prison on the West Coast and the fourth largest in the country. Herat says detainees held nine hunger strikes at the center in 2017 over conditions in the prison, yet are forced to wait there under this Supreme Court decision.

"That can take years and years and years," she laments. "It's a real waste of resources for our country and it really is something that tears families apart. It's a devastating decision in that sense."

The lead plaintiff in the case, Alejandro Rodriguez, was a legal permanent resident convicted of joyriding in 1998 and a drug possession fives years later. He was detained for three years without the right to ask for bond. The deportation order against Rodriguez has since been canceled.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA