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The Supreme Court, a theoretically legitimate institution, declared Tuesday that the US government can treat immigrants awaiting deportation like garbage. Specifically, ICE can "pick up" these immigrants and "detain" them "indefinitely" (a long-ass time). ICE can do this whenever it pleases, not just after these immigrants have completed prison terms for any criminal convictions.

The media has already hailed this as a "victory" for Donald Trump, because they can't help playing to his colossal ego. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which Trump has criticized despite knowing as much about the law as he does fine dining, ruled in 2016 that convicted immigrants could not be indefinitely detained after completing their sentences. The 9th Circuit said they could seek bond hearings and advocate for their release.

The 9th Circuit case was a class-action suit filed in the belief that immigrants had human rights. The plaintiffs were legal US residents: Cambodian immigrant Mony Preap, convicted of marijuana possession, and Palestinian immigrant Bassam Yusuf Khoury, convicted of attempted to manufacture a controlled substance. Preap was convicted in 2006 but ICE didn't arrest him then. When he was later convicted of battery, which does not trigger the mandatory detention statute, ICE took him into custody but denied him a bond hearing.

Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote today's SCOTUS opinion, scoffed at the notion of "due process" for mere noncitizens. He argued that "the Secretary's failure to abide by this time limit would not cut off her power to arrest under subsection (c)(1). That is so because, as we have held time and again, an official's crucial duties are better carried out late than never."

Alito refers to Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, a nefarious and heartless incompetent whose "crucial duties" involve locking up children in cages, some of whom die in the process. Pretty much everything on her "to-do" list should be carried out "never," forget "late" or even "promptly." It's as if the Court recognizes that Nielsen, while evil, is also too inept to send ICE after immigrants in a timely fashion. Better to let her have all the time she needs. Let's not overly tax the Homeland Security secretary.


The ruling's text refers frequently to "aliens," which is technically a legal term but also dehumanizing and offensive. Also, what are we going to do once we meet actual aliens and start entering into legal contracts with them? All our previous laws will be confusing. We'd also have to explain to ET or whatever that this is just how we treat brown humans from "shithole" countries. America has nothing but love for the two-headed folks from outer space.

The opinion is also rife with the sort of double-speak normally found in demonic contracts.

ALITO: Since an adverb cannot modify a noun, §1226(c)(1)'s adverbial clause "when . . . released" does not modify the noun "alien," which is modified instead by the adjectival clauses appearing in subparagraphs (A)–(D). Respondents contend that an adverb can "describe" a person even though it cannot modify the noun used to denote that person, but this Court's interpretation is not dependent on a rule of grammar. The grammar merely complements what is conclusive here: the meaning of "described" as it appears in §1226(c)(2)—namely, "to communicate verbally . . . an account of salient identifying features," Webster's Third New International Dictionary 610. That is the relevant definition since the indisputable job of the "descri[ption] in paragraph (1)" is to "identif[y]" for the Secretary which aliens she must arrest immediately "when [they are] released." Yet the "when . . . released" clause could not possibly describe aliens in that sense. If it did, the directive given to the Secretary in §1226(c)(1) would be incoherent. Moreover, Congress's use of the definite article in "when the alien is released" indicates that the scope of the word "alien" "has been previously specified in context." Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary 1294.

Whenever you stumble upon complex grammar lessons in a SCOTUS ruling, you know human rights are about to get violated but good. Justice Stephen Breyer read his dissent from the bench, which in Supreme Court-speak, means he was pissed the fuck off.

BREYER: Under the Government's view, the aliens subject to detention without a bail hearing may have been released from criminal custody years earlier, and may have established families and put down roots in a community. These aliens may then be detained for months, sometimes years, without the possibility of release; they may have been convicted of only minor crimes—for example, minor drug offenses, or crimes of "moral turpitude" such as illegally downloading music or possessing stolen bus transfers; and they sometimes may be innocent spouses or children of a suspect person. Moreover, for a high percentage of them, it will turn out after months of custody that they will not be removed from the country because they are eligible by statute to receive a form of relief from removal such as cancellation of removal. These are not mere hypotheticals.

We're going to make a bold statement and argue that immigrants who illegally downloaded Paula Abdul's "Vibeology" off Napster are less of a threat and more welcome here than Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, and any other criminal scuzzball in Trump's orbit. Trump whines about "witch hunts" while conducting the cruelest one yet in modern history.

This was one of those 5-4 rulings that make you weep. It's what happens when America lets a reality TV host pick judges from a Federalist Society-approved list like it's the Columbia Record Club catalog. Of course, if Hillary Clinton had actually won the presidency instead of just receiving the most votes, this would never have gone to the Supreme Court in the first place, because Clinton wouldn't have have placed Cruella De Vil in charge of Homeland Security.

Justice Neil Gorsuch's vote for this mess especially stings because he shouldn't even be there. If Senate Republicans had acknowledged the existence of Barack Obama's second term, things would be much different.

[SupremeCourt.gov / Reuters / The Atlantic]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He recently fled Seattle, where he did theatre work for Book-It Rep and Cafe Nordo.

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