This past week was an incredible important one for the Supreme Court, particularly in the area of immigration, and concluded in a frightening loss of rights for legal immigrants. After several years of delays, Jennings v. Rodriguez was finally reversed in a 5-3 decision that means that aliens – even those with legal status in the United States – can continue to be detained indefinitely without the right to periodic bond hearings. After a deadlock in 2016 after the death of Justice Scalia, the case was reintroduced in October 2017, at which point Justice Kagan recused herself. Tuesday proved to be a considerable loss for the liberal portion of the Court and could be an indicator of further wins for the GOP regarding immigration policy, despite refusing to hear an appeal over the DACA case the day before. This decision reversed a Ninth Circuit ruling which had determined that detainees should, like any other U.S. citizen, be guaranteed a bond hearing every 6 months. This includes people with legal status in the United States as well as asylum seekers. With Justice Kagan’s recusal due to her involvement in the case under the Obama administration, there was little surprise at the outcome of the case due to the right-leaning makeup of the current Supreme Court.
The outcomes of this case are extremely significant, not only because of the number of people affected, but because it comes at a time where the Trump presidency has not delivered on many of the promises made during the campaign, particularly when so many of the promises revolved around tightening border security and dealing with immigration. Ted Hesson noted that this decision, in conjunction with an executive order signed by President Trump early in his term which called for people arrested for immigration violations to be held in detention “to the extent permitted by the law”, means that people who could would have been previously released can now be held for months or years, regardless of whether or not they are being held for considerably ‘low-level’ crimes. It seems very likely that after this decision there could be an increase in the number of people being detained in order to dissuade other prospective asylum-seekers or other immigrants, legal or not, and most likely, will be received in a very positive manner by those supporters waiting for their president to deliver results.
According to the Times, the original decision in the Ninth Circuit was based on federal immigration laws, which was what the Supreme Court responded to by saying these laws did not authorize bond hearings. The Ninth Circuit will once again consider this case based on whether or not the Constitution grants these bond hearings to detainees as well as whether or not each case must be brought forward on an individual basis. Justice Breyer, in his dissent, wrote of the immigration laws in question, “I would find it far more difficult, indeed I would find it alarming, to believe that Congress wrote these statutory words in order to put thousands of individuals at risk of lengthy confinement all within the United States but all without hope of bail.” The thought of being held for an indeterminate period of time causes worry in terms of monitoring levels of democratic backsliding.
Although it is unsurprising to see drastic policy change regarding important partisan issues when a single-party maintains control of the government, the loss of rights for those who maintain legal status in the United States is unprecedented. The Trump presidency has emboldened those with what could be described as populist views. Citizens who felt disenfranchised after eight years of an Obama presidency now feel that Trump is someone who understands where they are coming from and will look out for their best interests. Sadly, much of this population has found a common enemy in those they believe to be responsible for their marginalization, mainly immigrants and other minority groups, spearheaded by the President who has never been afraid to make contentious statements against large groups of people. It is very likely that much of America will be extremely pleased at the outcome of Jennings v. Rodriguez, convinced that immigrants – even legal ones – are in this country to steal their jobs and contribute to rising crime. There is a great danger in the attitude of the Trump supporter who feels that only now are their interests being represented. The leader of the country should seek to represent all citizens, and Trump has made it clear that he is not working in the best interest of a significant portion of the population. In his dissent, Justice Breyer makes perhaps the most compelling point possible, “We need only recall the words of the Declaration of Independence, its insistence that all men and women have ‘certain unalienable rights,’… We need merely recall that among them is the right to ‘liberty.’”