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Supreme Court Rulings Make Immigration Removal Challenges More Difficult

By Laura Temme, Esq. on June 17, 2022 12:01 PM

A pair of decisions handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court this week could have a sweeping effect on immigration in the United States. The two cases, one a class-action, challenged the government's ability to hold a person facing deportation indefinitely without a bond hearing.

Immigration Code Does Not Require a Bond Hearing

Justice Sonia Sotomayor authored the unanimous decision in Johnson v. Arteaga-Martinez, ruling that the federal government may detain immigrants indefinitely in removal proceedings without a bond hearing.

Federal law requires the government to ensure a person leaves the country within 90 days of a removal order, and "[u]nder no circumstance during the removal period shall the attorney general release an alien who has been found inadmissible." If the person is still in the U.S. at the end of the removal period, the statute requires that they "be subject to supervision under regulations prescribed by the attorney general."

When Antonio Arteaga-Martinez faced deportation from the U.S., he sought a "withholding of removal," fearing persecution or torture if he returned to Mexico. An asylum officer determined his fear was reasonable, but since these proceedings can take months or even years, he faced a long period of detention while his case was processed.

In 2001, the court held 5-4 in Zadvydas v. Davis that holding an immigrant indefinitely "would raise a serious constitutional problem" under the Fifth Amendment right to due process. The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals relied on Zadvydas when it ruled in favor of Arteaga-Martinez, ordering that the statute required the government to grant him a bond hearing.

However, the Supreme Court leaned more on the doctrine of constitutional avoidance, which requires federal courts to decide cases based on statutory grounds instead of the Constitution wherever possible. Based on this idea, the court unanimously held that "no plausible construction" of the immigration statute requires the government to provide a bond hearing.

Constitutional Claims Will Go Back to the Lower Courts

Because the lower courts agreed with Arteaga-Martinez on the requirements of the immigration statute, they did not analyze his alternative claims that denial of a bond hearing would violate his constitutional rights. Therefore, the Supreme Court was unable to address those claims on review. It will be up to the lower courts to decide if the statute's silence on such hearings presents a due process problem.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote separately to argue that the court "should overrule Zadvydas at the earliest opportunity." He claims the Zadvydas decision created a problem and "invoked that manufactured ambiguity to graft a made-up rule" onto the immigration statute.

Class-Action Relief Denied

In another opinion released this week, the court voted 6-3 that a federal court cannot grant an injunction in a class-action lawsuit challenging immigration statutes. Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority in Garland v. Gonzalez, holding that the lower court overstepped its authority when it enjoined the government from detaining class members for more than six months without a bond hearing.

The Immigration and Nationality Act states that "no court (other than the Supreme Court) shall have jurisdiction or authority to enjoin or restrain" the government from carrying out removal provisions except "with respect to the application of such provisions to an individual alien." In 1999, the Supreme Court interpreted this to mean this portion of the statute prohibits federal courts from granting classwide injunctive relief.

The majority upheld this interpretation, concluding that the district courts lacked jurisdiction to hear a class-action case on bond hearings in immigration cases.

Justice Sotomayor dissented in part, arguing that "the inevitable consequence of barring classwide injunctive relief will be that these violations will go unremedied" for anyone unable to afford a talented immigration attorney or lucky enough to "secure vigorous pro bono representation."

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