Appeals Court Overturns Mandatory Detention of Immigrants

December 20, 2001 12:00 am

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Statement of Judy Rabinovitz, Senior Staff Counsel,
ACLU Immigrants’ Rights ProjectFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

NEW YORK–The federal appeals court decision overturning mandatory detention of immigrants is a timely reminder that all people — citizens and non-citizens alike — are protected by our Constitution.

This decision is especially significant at a time when we are seeing more blanket detention of immigrants and more attempts to remove the courts from the crucial system of checks and balances that keeps our democracy healthy.

At issue was a draconian law passed during a wave of anti-immigrant legislation in 1996 requiring all immigrants who face possible deportation because of crimes they have committed to remain in detention after they finish serving their criminal sentences, no matter how long the deportation process lasts.

In rejecting this policy, the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals said that while the government has a legitimate right to detain those who might flee or pose a threat to the community, a blanket detention policy violates the constitutional right to due process.

The government has always conceded that if these individuals were citizens, the Constitution would not permit their detention without an individualized bond hearing. Now the court has affirmed that right for all people within our borders. This ruling could affect thousands of immigrants who have been locked up for months, often years, while they contest deportation.

The appeals court decision is a natural outgrowth of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision last summer, Zadvydas v. Davis, striking down the government policy of indefinite detention of immigrants and reaffirming that immigrants are protected by the Constitution.

In today’s case, Patel v. Zemski, the court applied that same principle to people in mandatory detention who were convicted of earlier crimes, served their sentences and were detained while awaiting or contesting a final deportation order. The ruling does not address those individuals charged in special terrorist proceedings in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. It is binding in Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the Virgin Islands.

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