Immigrant advocates assail Jennings v. Rodriguez ruling

A Supreme Court ruling in Jennings v. Rodriguez is a blow to immigrant rights groups in New York.


Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio rallied this weekend ahead of U.S. Supreme Court deliberations for Janus v. AFSCME, a case that could prohibit mandatory union fees for non-members.

But Janus isn’t the only case that could have a significant political impact in the state.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled that immigrants held by the government and facing deportation do not have the right to bond hearings to decide whether they may be released on bail, regardless of how long they have been detained.

“It’s a devastating decision,” said Camille Mackler, the director of immigration legal policy at the New York Immigration Coalition. “It's really a blow to immigrant communities and to the immigrant rights movement.”

The Supreme Court’s decision applies to immigrants with legal permanent status, as well as asylum seekers. Immigrants often face detention over convictions for minor offenses, and are held for an average of 13 months.

The ruling for the case, Jennings v. Rodriguez, was split 5 to 3, with the conservative justices agreeing that detained immigrants do not have the right to a bail hearing every six months, reversing a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals in the Ninth Circuit. The Supreme Court remanded the case for the Ninth Circuit to consider whether bond hearings are required by the constitution, which means the issue could be brought before the highest court again.

In the majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that determining whether to deport an immigrant is often done quickly, but that in some cases the task is more difficult.

“As a result, Congress has authorized immigration officials to detain some classes of aliens during the course of certain immigration proceedings,” Alito wrote. “Detention during those proceedings gives immigration officials time to determine an alien’s status without running the risk of the alien’s either absconding or engaging in criminal activity before a final decision can be made.”

But Aadhithi Padmanabhan, a staff attorney at New York Civil Liberties Union, the New York branch of the American Civil Liberties Union – which represented the immigrants seeking hearings in Jennings v. Rodriguez – said that there was a demonstrable constitutional claim to bond hearings.

“While the court today found that there is no statutory requirement for immigrants to have bond hearings, the Constitution’s due process clause independently entitles all detainees to those hearings,” Padmanabhan said in a statement. “We are very concerned that hundreds of New Yorkers may be impacted if the government ceases providing bond hearings, and we will continue to litigate to ensure that immigrants receive a fair opportunity to secure their freedom.”

Mackler believes that this case highlighted an issue with immigration cases – they are civil proceedings, and not criminal ones, and therefore individuals do not have a right to a speedy trial, a lawyer, or to bond hearings.

“The U.S. Supreme Court basically held that the U.S. government can lock people up and throw away the key,” she said. “In the short term, I think that means that our city and our state need to step up and provide legal services.” Mackler noted that New York has already taken steps in this direction. The New York Immigration Family Unity Project has offered free legal services to immigrants facing deportation, with much of the funding coming from the New York City mayor’s office and the city council. (There was a minor funding dispute over NYIFUP over the summer, with the agreement that legal services for immigrants convicted of serious crimes would be funded by private donors.) The state has also engaged in a public-private partnership, the Liberty Defense Fund, to fund pro bono legal services for immigrants.

“We're lucky, New York has invested in legal services,” Mackler said. “While I'm not saying it's perfect, there's definitely more resources than in other places and New Yorkers should take advantage of those.” The Jennings ruling proves “the absence of the federal government to fix the errors in the system,” said Mackler, and that New York needs to continue to step up to defend immigrants.