Date: Tue Apr 29 2003 - 19:42:47 EDT
Legal Immigrants Can Be Held Without Bail, Court Says April 29, 2003 By DAVID STOUT WASHINGTON, April 29 - The Supreme Court ruled today, in a case with significant impact on the rights of noncitizens, that the federal government can detain legal immigrants without bail during their deportation proceedings. The court upheld, 5 to 4, the strict rules of the 1996 immigration law, which mandates detention of immigrants who have committed certain crimes even as those immigrants challenge their deportation. ``Congress regularly makes rules that would be unacceptable if applied to citizens,'' the court said in a summary attached to the opinion by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. The case decided today, Demore v. Kim, No. 01-1491, has been closely followed by immigrants' rights groups and lawyers who follow immigration issues. Today's decision made it clear that immigrants - even those in the United States legally - may have far more to lose than American citizens if they are convicted of crimes, and not necessarily heinous ones. ``We hold that Congress, justifiably concerned that deportable criminal aliens who are not detained continue to engage in crime and fail to appear for their removal hearings in large numbers, may require that persons such as respondent be detained for the brief period necessary for their removal proceedings,'' Justice Rehnquist wrote. The ``respondent'' is Hyung Joon Kim, who came to the United States in 1984 at age 6. While still a child, he became a lawful permanent resident. In 1996, when he was a teenager, he was convicted of burglary and the next year was found guilty of petty theft. He completed his sentence in California state prison and, the day after his release, was detained by immigration officials without bail to await deportation. After more than three months in custody, Mr. Kim filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, contending that the 1996 law's no-bail provision violated his constitutional rights. A federal district court and the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, agreed with him. But today, the Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit, and two other circuit courts that had come to similar conclusions. In so doing, the high court agreed with the government's contention, made in arguments before the justices in January, that the appeals judges had improperly substituted their judgment for those of lawmakers. Given America's often ambivalent relationship with immigrants, today's ruling will likely not be the last on immigrants' rights. Nor will the Kim case be the last controversy, either in the courts or Congress. As for the 1996 law that its critics say is too harsh, Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote, ``Congress adopted this provision against a backdrop of wholesale failure by the Immigration and Naturalization Service to deal with increasing rates of criminal activity by aliens.'' Joining in the majority were Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Justices David H. Souter, John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer dissented. ``The Court's judgment is unjustified by past cases or current facts,'' Justice Souter wrote in an opinion that rang with indignation in spots. ``Due process calls for an individual determination before someone is locked away,'' Justice Souter wrote at one point. He noted that Mr. Kim had completed his state prison sentence, and that he was not considered dangerous. Moreover, Justice Souter wrote, lawful permanent residents like Mr. Kim are the most privileged class of noncitizens - that is, they are typically ``developing economic, familial, and social ties indistinguishable from those of a citizen.'' Many lawful permanent residents aspire to, and eventually obtain citizenship, he noted. ``This case is not about the national government's undisputed power to detain aliens in order to avoid flight or prevent danger to the community,'' Justice Souter concluded. ``The issue is whether that power may be exercised by detaining a still lawful permanent resident alien when there is no reason for it and no way to challenge it.'' In a closing lament, Justice Souter said the majority's finding ``is devoid of even ostensible justification in fact and at odds with the settled standard of liberty.'' The decisions in the case can be read on the Supreme Court's Web site: www.supremecourtus.gov.
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