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Detaining Illegal Immigrants: Both Sides of the Issue / Political Stands

From Jennifer Leavitt-Wipf,
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Illegal immigrants, including children, are subject to deportation at any time. "Deportation" means forced removal from the United States. In addition, legal immigrants who commit certain crimes can become deportable upon conviction.

Deportable aliens are often detained in a jail or jail-like setting until deportation can take place. The problem is that the United States has so many deportable aliens in custody at any given time, that they cannot physically or financially afford to send everyone home instantly. Sometimes the homelands of the deportable aliens will not accept their citizens back. This causes additional delays. Therefore, some immigrants languish in jail for years and years awaiting deportation. Including children. Terror suspects have also been held indefinitely, without judicial process, legal representation or any sort of time frame to rely on.

Current Status

In June of 2001, in Zadvydas v. Davis, et al, 121 S. Ct. 2491, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the then-INS (currently the USCIS) could not indefinitely detain individuals who have been ordered removed from the U.S. but who cannot be repatriated to their homelands. However, exceptions continued to be made whenever removal within 90 days became impossible.

In April of 2003 Attorney General John D. Ashcroft defended and asserted the rights of the U.S. government to hold deportable aliens indefinitely. He released this far-reaching decision as he denied bail to an 18-year old Haitian migrant who had escaped Haiti and come to Florida by boat to seek asylum. Ashcroft maintained that illegal aliens do not have due process rights.

The Bush administration continues to hold this position.


While most people think of suspected terrorists when they hear the term "detainee," in fact, thousands upon thousands of illegal aliens, including children, are detained every year, and most have "only" committed the crime of being here illegally. Many people perceive illegal crossing to be a crime just as serious as theft or assault.

A sweeping 1996 immigration law, signed by Bill Clinton, retroactively made any green card holder who had committed even certain minor crimes immediately deportable. These people were often held indefinitely, sometimes being detained and deported because of, for example, a drug charge stemming back 15 years when they were in high school. Since 1996, some lawmakers have moved to soften this law, saying it targeted many of the wrong people. However, at the same time, the 9/11 terror attacks have contributed to harsher legal stance toward illegal aliens, and immigrants in general, as evidenced by all the secretive and indefinite detentions of 9/11 terror suspects.

The Supreme Court decided in June of 2004 that terror suspects have a right to dispute the grounds of their detention.

All the issues surrounding terror suspects, detention and deportation continue to be debated by lawmakers.

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