US Supreme Court takes up immigration detention dispute
U.S. Supreme Court is seen in Washington, U.S., October 3, 2016. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday takes up a new immigration dispute as it ponders the circumstances in which the federal government can detain people awaiting deportation after they have completed their sentences for criminal convictions.

The nine justices will hear an hour of arguments in an appeal by President Donald Trump’s administration - which has taken a hard line toward immigration - of a lower court ruling in favor of immigrants that it has said hampers the government’s ability to deport people who have committed crimes.

The plaintiffs include two legal U.S. residents involved in separate lawsuits filed in 2013, a Cambodian immigrant named Mony Preap convicted of marijuana possession and a Palestinian immigrant named Bassam Yusuf Khoury convicted of attempting to manufacture a controlled substance.

The case comes before the court on Trump-appointed Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s second day on the bench following his Senate confirmation on Saturday after a fierce political fight.

Under federal immigration law, immigrants who are convicted of certain offenses are subject to mandatory detention during their deportation process. They can be held indefinitely without a bond hearing after completing their criminal sentences.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2016 that convicted immigrants who are not immediately detained by immigration authorities after finishing their sentences cannot later be placed into indefinite detention awaiting possible deportation. The 9th Circuit decided that immigrants who were later detained after completing their prison time - sometimes years later - could seek bond hearings to argue for their release.

With the administration’s intensified immigration enforcement, growing numbers of people likely will be detained awaiting deportation. The administration also is locked in a fight with so-called sanctuary states and cities that offer protection to illegal immigrants. 

At bond hearings, immigrants can argue that they should be released on the basis that they do not post a danger to society or are not a flight risk.

The high court agreed to take up the dispute in March after ruling in another immigrant detention case a month earlier. The justices in that case curbed the ability of immigrants held in long-term detention during deportation proceedings to argue for their release, overturning another 9th Circuit ruling. [nL2N1QH0X9]

The law in question states that the government can detain convicted immigrants “when the alien is released” from criminal detention. Civil rights lawyers for two groups of plaintiffs argued that the language of the law shows that it applies only immediately after immigrants are released.

Just as former President Barack Obama’s administration had argued, the Trump administration said the government should have the power to detain such immigrants at any time.

Trump’s biggest court victory on immigration came in June when the justices upheld his ban on people entering the United States from several Muslim-majority countries. 

A ruling in the bond hearing case is due by the end of June.

Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham