By Sophie Smith
In January, a California court ruled that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) must stay in place, a decision that outraged the firmly anti-immigration White House. Donald Trump’s administration believes the program is unconstitutional, claiming that its offer of work permits and other government benefits is illegal.
In an attempt to fight the rule, the White House brought an appeal to the Supreme Court. This was an unusual choice because, in accordance with the federal court system, appeals are normally brought to a federal circuit court before reaching the Supreme Court. The White House bypassed the ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the Western US, a court with the reputation for making liberal-leaning decisions. The administration believed the currently Republican controlled Supreme Court would be more likely to rule in its favor.
Instead, the Supreme Court deferred to rule on the appeal, deciding to keep DACA in place until a decision could be made. Now the appeal will return to lower courts. Experts believe a decision will not come for several months, considering how slowly the federal court process moves. This is a win for U.S. DREAMers, since DACA was set to expire this Monday, March 5 — deferring the appeal will extend DACA, protecting DREAMers for now.
However welcome this advancement may be, we should not be too quick to praise the Supreme Court. Days later the court overturned a recent ruling from the ninth Circuit which decided detained immigrants must be granted bond hearings. Immigrants — whether undocumented or legal residents of the US — can be kept in detainment centers for an indefinite amount of time before being given hearings. Currently there are no provisions in place that require hearings to be held.
The case the Supreme Court heard, Jennings v. Rodriguez, was brought by the ACLU on behalf of Alejandro Rodriguez, a permanent resident of the U.S. who arrived from Mexico as an infant. Rodriguez was held in a detainment center in the early 2000’s for infractions involving joyriding and illegal of possession substances, but he was never convicted for his alleged crimes. He spent three years in detainment before being granted a hearing.Unfortunately, cases like Rodriguez’s are anything but unique. Yet regardless of how many lives these statues have harmed or put on pause, the Supreme Court still returned the case to lower courts. The Supreme Court poses two questions to these courts. Firstly, is it constitutional for detainees to be held indefinitely without trials, and secondly, can this case be brought as a class-action one, even though each immigrant’s circumstances are unique?
If the goal of our country’s leaders is to protect the liberty of its residents, neither question should require months to be answered. The statues completely disregard habeas corpus and the Due Process clause. Many detainees, like Alejandro Rodriguez, are legal U.S. residents.
As for the second question, of course this case can and should continue to be class-action, or a case involving several individuals that operate as a single defendant. It was the U.S. government itself that lumped the detained immigrants in one group, regardless of criminal record or legal status, and trying to hear cases individually would create an insurmountable backlog in the court system. Furthermore, many people being detained, particularly undocumented immigrants, do not have access to individual lawyers. Allowing this to be a class-action case should be a no-brainer.
To me, it seems the Supreme Court’s 5-3 decision is yet another powerplay by conservatives in leadership positions (Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from the case). We have seen time and time again that the American government is systematically discriminatory: consider the so-called ‘Muslim ban,’ mandatory minimum sentencing, the continued wage gaps between genders and races or anti-Black Lives Matter rhetoric. It could even be argued that Congress’ lack of action when it comes to gun control is further proof of this systematic discrimination – the Pew Research Center finds that most gun owners are white men. This ruling from the Supreme Court inarguably favors Republicans, who gain massively from large-scale immigration detainment. According to AJ+, an Al Jazeera online news channel, 62 percent of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) over 200 detainment centers in 2014 were run by private companies. Like the U.S.’s corrupt prison system, detention centers are wrapped up in the complicated and growing web among the wealthiest of Americans: private corporations and politicians. It makes sense, then, that five Supreme Court justices would rule along their financially-driven party lines.
The Supreme Court is meant to be above this conscious discrimination, with its meticulous design to be an impartial body that keeps checks on the other two branches of government. But in today’s dangerously bipartisan country, all that has been thrown out the window. The court’s ruling is yet another example of the institutionalized discrimination in this country, and a blatant disregard for human rights that should outrage all of us.