High Court Affirms That Government Cannot Indefinitely Detain Mariel Cubans

January 12, 2005 12:00 am

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Decision is Latest to Reject Government’s Attempt to Deny Rights to Non-Citizens

NEW YORK – The Supreme Court today ruled 7-2 that the government violated the law by indefinitely detaining “Mariel” Cubans who cannot be deported because Cuba will not allow their return.

“Once again, the Court has rebuked the administration for claiming the authority to indefinitely imprison immigrants,” said Judy Rabinovitz, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project and an author of the ACLU’s friend-of-the-court brief who has successfully argued against such policies in the lower courts. “Today’s ruling is a vindication of the ACLU’s position that the government has been violating immigrants’ rights in disregard of the Supreme Court’s 2001 decision prohibiting indefinite detention.”

Ruling in the consolidated cases Clark v. Martinez and Benitez v. Rozos, the Court agreed with the ACLU and others who argued that the government’s position is inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s 2001 interpretation of Congress’s indefinite detention statute in Zadvydas v. Davis.

In that case, the Justices ruled that when an immigration detainee’s deportation cannot be carried out within a “reasonably foreseeable” period, defined by the court as six months in most cases, the government generally cannot continue to hold that person.

Today’s decision will affect hundreds of Mariel Cubans and other immigrants who have been ordered removed but whose countries refuse to accept them back. Many have been languishing in prisons and jails throughout the country as a result of the government’s unlawful policies. They are now entitled to release, subject to governmental supervision. The government can redetain immigrants only if it can demonstrate “a significant likelihood of removal in the foreseeable future.”

“The Court’s decision adds to a growing list of recent Supreme Court rulings affirming the rights of non-citizens and overturning the Bush administration’s overreaching claims,” said Lucas Guttentag, Director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “These rulings underscore that checks and balances are essential to safeguarding both liberty and security.”

Recent Supreme Court rulings rejecting the government’s position include:

  • In November 2004, the Court ruled unanimously in Leocal v. Ashcroft that a legal immigrant’s drunk driving conviction does not allow for mandatory deportation.
  • In June 2004, the Justices ruled that foreign citizens detained at Guantánamo Bay and American citizens detained in military brigs are both entitled to their day in court.
  • In June 2001, in a case argued by Guttentag, the Court ruled in INS v. St. Cyr that the government may not deport aliens without judicial review and may not apply changes in deportation standards retroactively.
  • In June 2001, in Zadvydas v. Davis, the Court ruled that indefinite detention of immigrants who could not be deported to their home country raised serious constitutional issues and was not authorized by statute.

The decision in today’s case is online at /Court/CourtMain.cfm.

Further information on Supreme Court rulings can be found at www.aclu.org/supremecourt.

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