On April 29, the Supreme Court upheld the mandatory-detention provisions of a 1996 immigration law by a 5 to 4 vote, which means that immigrants awaiting deportation proceedings could be imprisoned without possibility of release on bond. This decision also affects permanent residents, who if they commit certain “aggravated” offenses or offenses of “moral turpitude”, will serve their sentences before being locked up again for the duration of their deportation proceedings.
This Supreme Court decision, made despite urgings from immigrant rights groups, civil libertarians, and the American Bar Association that the permanent residents had constitutional right for a hearing to determine whether they posed flight or security risk, is another deterioration of immigrant rights, and erosion of the rights of even relatively well-established non-citizens.
Under this decision, the Attorney General has the right to treat all legal permanent residents facing deportation as a group, without regard to the nature of the crime or their personal situations. Chief Justice Rehnquist said that “against a backdrop of wholesale failure” by immigration authorities to deal with the rise of crimes committed by aliens, there was a need to imprison criminal aliens awaiting deportation to prevent them from committing new crimes. On the other hand, Justice Souter said that the government has to justify the detention of individuals on a case-by-case basis, and said, “Due process calls for an individual determination before someone is locked away”.
This case involved Hyung Joon (Sam) Kim, a 25-year-old Korean American and a permanent resident, who has lived most of his life in U.S. and face deportation to Korea for convictions from stealing from a toolshed and other petty theft. After serving two years for his conviction, he was arrested by immigration authorities. He was released after petitioning a federal district judge for release, and is now a junior majoring in business administration at San Jose State University. However, with this Supreme Court’s decision, he now faces a return to detention. As this decision reverses rulings by federal appeals courts, anyone released on bail in California, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, may also face immediate return to detention.