In a decision cheered by human rights organizations and immigrant justice activists, the Supreme Court ruled in Benitez v. Mata (also known as Martinez v. Clark) on January 12, 2005 that the protection against indefinite detention for immigrants, first decided in Zadvydas v. Davis, applied in cases involving those who were currently within the U.S., regardless of their immigration standing. The Center for Constitutional Rights joined in an Amicus brief supporting the application of Zadvydas in this case.
In Zadvydas v. Davis, the Supreme Court decided that aliens due to be deported who cannot be repatriated are not allowed to be detained longer than six months and must be released; the government has resisted complying with this ruling. The Center for Constitutional Rights applied the Zadvydas ruling successfully in the case of Palestinian activist Farouk Abdel-Muhti, winning his release after almost twenty three months in jail by arguing that it was impossible to return him to the Occupied Territories and unconstitutional to hold him in detention indefinitely. Tragically, Farouk died soon after his release from detention.
The Bush Administration has consistently attempted to avoid the decisions of the Supreme Court relating to indefinite detention. One of the government’s tactics has been to deny release to people who are “paroled” into the United States, meaning that they are physically allowed into the country while their status is being determined. Technically, they are not considered to be “in” the country. Benitez v. Mata impugned the government’s tactic in the context of long-term detention. The plaintiffs in the Benitez case came to America from Cuba during the Muriel Boat Lift. Later, after being found guilty of crimes in the United States they were scheduled for deportation. Cuba has refused to receive them, and they have stayed in detention for years. Their uncertain fate and the open-ended nature of their detention led to the plaintiffs being known as “lifers” in the detention centers in which they were held. The decision in Benitez v. Mata assures that no one will be held indefinitely because of another country’s refusal to accept them.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled against the Bush Administration’s arbitrary and unending detentions. Most notably the court ruled against the Bush Administration in Rasul v. Bush , CCR’s successful case against the detentions at Guantanamo. The Bush Administration has continued to stonewall the Supreme Court, and occasionally has won cases, as in Jama v. ICE where the court ruled on January 12, 2004, that a country did not have to consent for the United States to deport a non-U.S. citizen. The impact of this case is still unclear as it references the extremely specific instance of Somalia, where no constituted government existed at the time. CCR will continue to fight the indefinite detention of immigrants and others and argue that the United States should not be a place where people are locked away forever without justice.