Supreme Court Still Divided Along Ideological Lines on Undocumented Immigration

WASHINGTON – It didn’t take long for the newly reconstituted Supreme Court to find itself in familiar territory Wednesday: divided down the middle over illegal immigration.

Faced with a dispute over a federal law that calls for immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally and have criminal records to be detained without bond pending deportation, the justices split along ideological lines.

The court’s liberal justices said the 1996 law required that any such detention begin immediately after the immigrants are released from jail or prison. In some cases, they noted, immigration officials pick them up years later, when they don’t pose any danger or flight risk.

But the conservative justices said it was impractical to expect the government to be able to detain every immigrant immediately, particularly when money and manpower are limited, and state and local governments may be opposed.

By the end of an hour’s debate, it appeared the court might seek a compromise between requiring immediate detention and allowing years-long delays.

“If reasonable amount of time … were part of a ruling, what do you think is a reasonable amount of time?” the court’s newest member, Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, asked the government’s lawyer, Zachary Tripp.

Kavanaugh’s addition to the court following a bitter confirmation battle that he blamed on Democrats and “left-wing opposition groups” has focused unwelcome attention on the justices, who prefer to be seen as nonpartisan. For that reason, they are likely to seek out compromises whenever possible.

But immigration is an issue that frequently divides them. In February, they ruled 5-3 that detained non-citizens lack the right to periodic bond hearings. In April, they ruled 5-4 that a law subjecting non-citizens to deportation for crimes of violence was unconstitutionally vague, with Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch joining a liberal majority.

And in June, the conservative majority in a 5-4 ruling upheld President Donald Trump’s ban on travel from five predominantly Muslim countries.

By Richard Wolf for USA TODAY
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