The U.S. Supreme Court, narrowly divided along ideological lines, ruled Tuesday that the government may detain - without a hearing - legal immigrants long after they have served the sentences for crimes they committed.
The case the court ruled on involves immigrants who have committed a range of crimes while living in the United States. Other courts have said that is impractical and that "when" means when the government learns of the person's release, even if it is years later.
In a concurring opinion, Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote: "The sole question before us is narrow: whether, under [the law], the Executive Branch's mandatory duty to detain a particular noncitizen when the noncitizen is released from criminal custody remains mandatory if the Executive Branch fails to immediately detain the noncitizen when the noncitizen is released from criminal custody".
Democrats have argued that the measure would be a tit-for-tat response to moves already taken by President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to get high numbers of conservative judges nominated and confirmed to courts across the country, as well as McConnell's success in preventing former President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court Merrick Garland from ever receiving a vote.
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Trump's measures to curb migration have faced numerous court challenges.
The court's four more liberal justices dissented, and Justice Stephen Breyer took the unusual step of reading an oral dissent from the bench.
The Supreme Court came under fire after it handed the Trump administration a victory in its hard-line immigration crackdown on Tuesday.
Department of Justice spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said the administration was "pleased with the decision".
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The case centered on immigrants Mony Preap and Bassam Yusuf Khoury, lawful permanent residents who had been convicted of crimes and sentenced to prison.
"It runs the gravest risk of depriving those whom the government has detained of one of the oldest and most important of our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms", Breyer wrote.
The Virginia Supreme Court had found the commonwealth's laws were not incompatible with the U.S. Supreme Court's rulings because "Virginia law does not preclude a sentencing court from considering mitigating circumstances, whether they be age or anything else". Federal law mandates detention for certain aliens while awaiting deportation proceedings, he said. Alito said it is hard for federal officials to discover when noncitizens will be released from prison, since certain states and localities will not provide that information. They can be held indefinitely without a bond hearing after completing their sentences.
The appeals court had said that convicted immigrants who are not immediately detained by immigration authorities after finishing their sentences but then later picked by immigration authorities could seek bond hearings to argue for their release.
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