In cases in which no country is willing to accept a noncitizen who is under order of deportation, the controversial Zadvydas decision restricted the length of time of detentions, except when the government can demonstrate aggravating circumstances that require additional detention.
A resident alien in the United States, Kestutis Zadvydas had been born to
After Zadvydas’s custody had lasted longer than ninety days, he petitioned a U.S. district court for a writ of habeas corpus. The court ruled in Zadvydas’s favor, based on the theory that the government would never deport him, thereby resulting in permanent confinement without a criminal trial, which violated constitutional requirements of due process. The court of appeals, however, reversed the decision, based on the theory that an eventual deportation was not impossible, thereby providing a rationale for continuing the administrative detention.
In a 5-4 opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the “the statute, read in light of the U.S. Constitution’s demands, limits an alien’s post-removal-period detention to a period reasonably necessary to bring about that alien’s removal from the United States.” Writing the opinion for the Court, Justice
Although deportation proceedings were “civil and assumed to be nonpunitive,” the government’s two justifications did not appear adequate to an indefinite civil detention. First, the possibility of flight appeared weak, since no country wanted to accept Zadvydas; second, the use of preventive detention to protect the community was only allowed for individuals judged to be especially dangerous. Balancing Zadvydas’s “liberty interests” with the risk of his committing crimes, Breyer wrote that the INS could detain him for an additional six months, after which it would have to demonstrate strong proof to justify further detention.
Kanstroom, Daniel. Deportation Nation: Outsiders in American History. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007. Welch, Michael. Detained: Immigration Law and the Expanding I.N.S. Jail Complex. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.
Supreme Court, U.S.