Trump Appeal in Deportation Clash Gets U.S. Supreme Court Review

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(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Supreme Court will review a ruling the Trump administration says would undercut efforts to deport convicted criminals, accepting an appeal that touches on the debate over so-called sanctuary cities.

The case centers on people who are released after serving a criminal sentence and later arrested by federal immigration agents. A San Francisco-based federal appeals court said those people are entitled to a bond hearing, and the possibility of re-release, while the Department of Homeland Security presses its case for deportation.

Federal agents often aren’t on hand to take custody when an immigrant is released by state or local officials. The Trump administration says the problem is especially acute in jurisdictions that don’t cooperate with requests to hold a prisoner until federal officials can arrive.

The ruling will "frustrate DHS’s ability to remove deportable criminal aliens from the United States, and frustrate Congress’s purpose of ensuring that removable criminal aliens are unable to flee or reoffend during their removal proceedings," the administration argued in its appeal.

In the case before the court, some of the affected people had been living in their communities for years before facing deportation proceedings. They include Mony Preap, a lawful permanent resident who came to the U.S. as an infant in 1981 when his family fled Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge.

Preap was convicted of two counts of marijuana possession in California and released from jail in 2006. Although that offense potentially made him vulnerable to deportation, federal officials didn’t seize him until 2013, after he was convicted of the non-deportable offense of battery.

Federal officials then held him for three months without a bond hearing while trying to deport him over the marijuana conviction. Preap eventually won the deportation case and was released to his family.

Under federal immigration law, people are subject to "mandatory detention," meaning they don’t get a bond hearing, if they finish their criminal sentences and are immediately taken into custody by DHS agents. The law, however, is unclear whether mandatory detention applies if DHS doesn’t take custody right away and the person has already been released.

Writing for the appeals court, Judge Jacqueline Nguyen said Congress didn’t intend to impose mandatory detention on people who have already been released.

"Congress’s design of protecting the public by detaining criminal aliens is undoubtedly premised on the notion that recently released criminal aliens may be presumed a risk," Nguyen wrote. "Such a presumption carries considerably less force when these aliens live free and productive lives after serving their criminal sentences."

The court will hear arguments during the nine-month term that starts in October.

In February the court overturned a 9th Circuit ruling that had guaranteed periodic bond hearings for thousands of foreigners who are being detained while facing deportation.

The new case is Nielsen v. Preap, 16-1363.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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