Is It Constitutional to Lock Up Immigrants Indefinitely?

Alejandro came to the U.S. from Mexico as a baby with his parents. He grew up as a lawful permanent resident. As an adult, Alejandro worked as a dental assistant to support his family. He was convicted of drug possession in 2004 and imprisoned for more than three years pending deportation proceedings, far longer than required for his criminal custody. He never received a bond hearing to determine whether his continued detention was justified. In 2007, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on his behalf, arguing that “neither the immigration laws nor the Constitution permit such detention unless a judge determines, at a hearing, that the immigrant will pose a danger or flight risk if released.”

After the suit was filed, Alejandro was released from custody. Ultimately, he won his immigration case and retained his residency, despite a Supreme Court ruling that due process permits indefinite detention without hearings in the immigration system. However, the fight for immigrant rights is surely not over.

Alejandro’s case is just one of many examples of what immigrants are facing today because of the U.S. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Jennings v. Rodriguez puts thousands of immigrants like Alejandro at risk of deportation. Many of these detained immigrants won’t be able to afford an attorney to fight for their rights, and the right to a government-appointed attorney doesn’t extend to immigration court. Don’t all victims deserve the right to tell their story; to exercise their right to trial by jury? As the ACLU states, “nowhere else in the U.S. legal system do we let the government take people’s freedom away for months or years without a hearing before a judge who determines whether their incarceration is necessary. Imprisonment without trial is contrary to our most basic values.”

We must continue as a society to fight against such injustice. Democracy survives when we are united. We must do what we can to keep millions of families together and preserve the character of our country.

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