This certified genius' Supreme Court argument could be a game changer for immigrants

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Immigrants have a certified genius representing them in the Supreme Court this week in a landmark case that could be a game changer for thousands of people.

The case, which goes before the Supreme Court today, challenges the government’s practice of detaining immigrants for months— or even years— without bond. The decision could have huge implications on the eve of a Trump government that has promise to ramp up deportation efforts.


“The case is very significant because on any given day there's about 40,000 people in immigration detention centers all across the nation,” said Ahilan Arulanantham, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney and MacArthur "genius" grantee who will be arguing the case before the Supreme Court.

Arulanantham has represented thousands of immigrants over the past two decades, and was honored for his work earlier this year with a MacArthur “genius" grant.


The issue he arguing before the high court this week affects untold thousands of undocumented immigrants in this country. Some people have been detained in immigration detention centers for years without a bail hearing. Arulanantham insists all detained immigrants are entitled to a bail hearing after no later than six months.

“The Supreme Court has the opportunity to provide due process protections for some of those people,” Arulanantham told me in a pre-trial phone interview from Washington, DC.

The named plaintiff in the Rodriguez, et al. v. Robbins, et al. case is Alejandro Rodriguez, an immigrant from Mexico who was detained by immigration officials for more than 3 years without a bond hearing.

Despite his prolonged detention, Rodriguez ultimately won his deportation case and was allowed to remain in the U.S. legally. Had he been granted a bond hearing and allowed provisional release, he could have gotten on with his life sooner, and had a better chance of defending his deportation case. Statistics show that immigrants released on bail have a far greater chance of winning their deportation cases than those behind bars.


The lawsuit going before the Supreme Court today was originally filed in 2007. The Ninth Circuit Court has already ruled in favor of granting bond hearings to immigrants, but federal immigration officials are now challenging that decision before the high court.

The class action lawsuit represents approximately 1,000 Class members who were detained without bond hearings for more than six months. Court records show that, on average, Class members were detained for about a year. An ACLU analysis of the case found that 70% of the claimants were eligible for release on bond, but the government argues that no immigrant is entitled to a bond hearing.


“Their detention resulted in the loss of crucial support for their relatives, including sick parents, small children, and older children pursuing higher education,” the lawsuit claims.

The Class action lawsuit also includes asylum-seekers.

A Fusion investigation discovered immigration officials detain about 75 transgender immigrants on any given day. Many of them are transgender women who are seeking asylum and are detained for months in men’s detention centers. The investigation found that the conditions in detention for one trans woman were so bad that she ask to be deported back to El Salvador, the most murderous country in the world.


Statistics show that most immigrants released on bond are not a flight risk. Court records from 2015 show that 86% of individuals released from detention turned up for their court hearings, according to the nonpartisan Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.