The US Supreme Court on Monday heard oral argument in Pham v. Guzman Chavez, which addresses the detention of aliens who are both in the process of removal from the US and subject to a reinstated removal order.
The case stems from a dispute over whether a group of eight non-citizen immigrants, initially detained by the US government for illegal entry, could seek release via bond hearings before immigration judges. A further complication arose when examining the US government’s actual statutory authority in detaining immigrants seeking to overturn deportation decisions after reinstated removal orders—removal orders which are reinstated after an immigrant lawfully re-enters the US.
The case revolves around two sections of the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act, which significantly modified federal law as it relates to immigration and migration policy in the US. Typically, noncitizens with reinstated removal orders are swiftly removed by the government. However, immigrants may challenge the removal orders with “withholding claims,” which, if granted, bar their removal as a means of protection from feared persecution or torture if they return to their home countries.
In the lower US District Court, the government argued that Section 1231 of the Act automatically subjected the immigrants to “mandatory detention.” The immigrants argued that another section of the Act, Section 1226, allowed them to appear in front of immigration judges. The court determined that the group was detained under Section 1226, ruling for the immigrants. On appeal, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the ruling, concluding that the petitioners were entitled to individualized bond hearings. The court held that the Act requires that plaintiffs receive individual bond hearings, where a judge determines if they pose a “flight risk.” If the judge makes no such finding, the government must release the individual from detention.
Matthew Albence, in his official capacity as Acting Director of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), filed a petition with the Supreme Court in January 2020.
Several organizations filed amicus curiae briefs, including the Immigration Reform Law Institute, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the National Immigrant Justice Center, Human Rights First and International Law Scholars, and the American Immigration Council. A coalition of 34 former US Immigration Judges and Members of the Board of Immigration Appeals “who have collectively presided over thousands of immigration cases and appeals,” also filed a brief in support of the immigrant respondents.
Transcripts of the argument are available here.