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SCOTUS Weighs Fate of Bonds for Detained Asylum Seekers

Front of Supreme Court building
A statue of the Contemplation of Justice overlooks the steps leading into the U.S. Supreme Court. (Photo: Matt H. Wade/CC 3.0)

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday in an immigration case that originated in Virginia. The crux of the case: whether some undocumented immigrants in federal custody can be released on bond. 

The court will decide if a subset of undocumented immigrants who entered the country to seek protections -- after having already been deported previously -- can ask to be released on bond while they fight their case. 

The Legal Aid Justice Center filed a lawsuit in 2017 on behalf of five individuals in this situation. They won that case and later, the class action lawsuit that was appealed to the nation’s highest court and heard Monday.  

Justices are tasked with reconciling two different sections of the the U.S. code that govern the detention and release of undocumented immigrants.

One says they have the right to bond in certain circumstances while the other says they have to be detained in certain circumstances. They’ll decide which section of the code applies to this specific group -- a decision that may take months. 

Vivek Suri, assistant to the U.S. Solicitor General argued on the government’s behalf.  

“Our point is simply that these particular aliens have already been removed from the country, have defied their removal orders, have come back into the country illegally and been caught,” Suri told the court. “There's a particularly strong basis for concluding that those aliens are a flight risk.” 

Justice Stephen Breyer, part of the liberal wing of the court,  indicated he had some concerns with that logic. 

“This is a country where by and large, we don't keep people in prison for years… without any chance of even getting bail,” Breyer said.

Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg with the Legal Aid Justice Center said he hopes the court rejects the government’s interpretation of the law, which he says can lead to long-term detention for thousands of people who have committed civil offenses.  

“Where it’s unclear which law applies, one of the things that you can use to determine is which law is going to violate people’s constitutional rights less,” Sandoval-Moshenberg said. “That’s one of the things that we’re hoping that they’ll use to interpret it.”

Suri maintained that in the vast majority of these cases, detention will last three to four months before an immigration judge issues a decision.

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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