Think it's illegal to be stuck in jail without bail for 3 years for a misdemeanor? Nope.
Alejandro Rodriguez has lived in the United States. since he was 1 year old. He’s a father now, and until recently, worked as a dental assistant. So why — after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor more than 15 years ago — did it take three years for him to get a bond hearing?
That’s right: Rodriguez wasn’t serving a 3-year sentence. He was simply waiting to see a judge to find out what his bail might be.
Even more suprising? The Supreme Court declared last week that this treatment of him was all perfectly legal.
See, even though Rodriguez is a legal permanent resident, SCOTUS just announced that immigrants — including asylum seekers and green card holders — do not have the right to periodic bond hearings.
The ruling comes from the Jennings v. Rodriguez case, in which Rodriguez was the lead plaintiff. And the whole thing is way more complicated than you’e ever expect.
But let’s back up. Back in 2004, the Department of Homeland Security placed Rodriguez in immigration detention for three years after he plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge for drug possession. (In 1998, he was also convicted for “joyriding.”)
And we know how that turned out.
In 2007, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, Rodriguez filed a lawsuit stating that he had the right to a bond hearing. In response, the Ninth Circuit Court ruled immigrant detainees do have a constitutional right to a bond hearing. But that ruling was ultimately reversed on Feb. 27, 2018.
In the majority opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, the court said that “immigration officials are authorized to detain certain aliens in the course of immigration proceedings while they determine whether those aliens may be lawfully present in the country.”
When the SCOTUS ruling was announced last week, it prompted mass outrage from immigration advocates and progressive political commentators.
But according to two immigration attorneys who spoke with Upworthy, this outsized response is born out of disinformation from media coverage about the case. A big misunderstanding can be pointed to news headlines that suggest the decision could lead to the indefinite detention of immigrants.
According to Diego Aranda Teixeira, an immigration attorney who is administered in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (which is where the Jennings v. Rodriguez case will be heard next), the SCOTUS ruling does not allow for immigrants to be detained indefinitely.
“This decision does not make it possible to detain all immigrants forever,” Teixeira says.
The ruling is far more narrow than what has been reported. The Jennings v. Rodriguez case was based on the concern of indiscriminate administrative bond hearings for detained non-citizens with a criminal background.
“Before that, in [the Ninth Circuit], only people who had not been detained at or near the time and place of crossing a border or asking for admission, who were not in categories of people mandatorily detained for certain reasons largely related to criminal history, and who were not detained to enforce an existing removal order, very broadly speaking, you had the right to one bond hearing if detained,” Teixeira added.
In other words, the SCOTUS ruling does not “greenlight” indefinite detention for immigrants.
While Michael Edelman, an attorney based in Philadelphia, believes it is “egregious” to detain people as a “human rights matter,” he agrees with Teixeira’s assessment.
According to Edelman, the decision not apply to all immigrants since a lot of other SCOTUS cases already and explicitly “protect the vast majority of immigrants from indefinite, hearing-less detention.”
“The decision says that certain immigrants can be detained throughout the duration of their immigration proceeds,” Edelman added. “That is all.”
Here’s what happens next.
Well, the Jennings v. Rodriguez case has now gone back to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. There are several outcomes to this. The Ninth Circuit, which is considered to be quite progressive, could say that denying bond hearings to immigrant detainees is a violation of their constitutional right.
The Ninth Circuit could also propose other solutions for administrative bond hearings on a case by case solution based on the detainees in question.
But for now, the door remains open in finding an answer to the issue of prolonged detention. If the Ninth Circuit comes to a new decision, and has to go back to the Supreme Court, Teixeira says a lot of immigrant detainees who had their bonds are going to remain detained until the new decision is taken or another new lawsuit is filed.
“It would have been far better for SCOTUS to affirm the Ninth Circuit, I feel,” Teixeira added. As of right now, there isn’t much to do to challenge the decision except to wait.