ACLU Refutes Attorney General's Statements on Supreme Court-Ordered Release of Immigrants

July 20, 2001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON–The American Civil Liberties Union today sharply criticized an apparent attempt by the Department of Justice to delay the release of indefinitely detained immigrants whom the Supreme Court recently ordered released.

Attorney General John Ashcroft said at a news conference yesterday that the Court’s decision does not require the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to automatically release detainees whose countries either no longer exist or won’t accept them.

“”The Attorney General’s statements are an ominous indication of a lack of respect for Supreme Court decisions,”” said Judy Rabinovitz, Senior Staff Counsel with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, which has coordinated efforts around the country to overturn indefinite detention orders.

“”These comments seem to violate the spirit if not the letter of the Supreme Court’s declaration that these individuals must be freed,”” she said.

In its June 28 ruling in Zadvydas v. Davis, the Court cited “”the serious constitutional problem”” arising out of a law that “”permits an indefinite, perhaps permanent, deprivation of human liberty.””

The ACLU today also criticized Ashcroft’s suggestion that the majority of the immigrants under detention are “”dangerous criminals,”” when in fact the overwhelming majority — all of whom have completed their sentences and been released by the criminal justice system — do not fit into that broad and vague category.

“”Contrary to the Attorney General’s suggestion, the Supreme Court clearly addressed this precise issue,”” said Lucas Guttentag, Director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, “”by noting that the detainees would be released under strict conditions, that violators would be returned to jail, and that predictions of future dangerousness alone are not a permissible basis for indefinite incarceration.””

Ashcroft also asserted that the Court’s ruling does not apply to those who entered the country illegally, including asylum seekers.

While acknowledging that the Supreme Court’s decision came in a case involving legally admitted immigrants, Guttentag said the ACLU believes that the Court’s ruling applies to all immigrants regardless of status because the Court ruled that the law on which the INS relies does not authorize indefinite detention.

Guttentag also noted that the Attorney General’s instructions to the INS are at odds with recent statements he made in June 6 hearings before Congress, acknowledging that indefinite detention of immigrants “”shocks the conscience of individuals”” and that prolonged detention of immigrants who have committed no crimes (such as asylum seekers) is “”an embarrassment to our system of justice and freedom.””

The ACLU news release on the Supreme Court decision is online at

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