Catholic lawyer voices concern at Supreme Court's immigrant bond ruling

Jail prison Credit FreeBirdPhotos Shutterstock CNA FreeBirdPhotos/Shutterstock.

After the Supreme Court rejected the idea that detained immigrants are entitled to periodic bond hearings, a Catholic immigration lawyer warned that detention centers take a toll on those who spend long periods of time there.

"I was just recently in a facility in South Texas where they were detaining children and families and it was an old Walmart that had been converted into a jail like facility," said Michelle Saenz-Rodriguez, who serves on the Dallas bishop's Immigration Task Force.

The detention facility has a "bathroom in the middle of the room. You don't have any privacy, which really makes people feel that...they don't have any dignity," Saenz-Rodriguez told CNA.

"A lot of people are depressed...they have suffered violence in their country and now they really need treatment," she continued.

On Feb. 27, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 that periodic bond hearings are not required for detained immigrants who face possible deportation.

The class-action lawsuit, Jennings vs. Rodriguez, was brought by a collection of immigrants who have been in custody for long periods of time. It includes both immigrants who are claiming asylum and those who were detained on charges of committing a crime.

A lower court had ruled that bond hearings must be held every six months in cases where an immigrant is being detained.

Saenz-Rodriguez, a Catholic immigration lawyer who has worked with the detained for 27 years, said immigrants often refer to these detainment centers as the "hieleras" or "refrigerators" due to the constant, uncomfortably cold temperature inside.

She said that she often sees cases in which the detention time is 14-15 months or more.

"I have a client right now...who had applied for asylum in the United States and was actually deported...He was sent back to Honduras and when he was in Honduras they [a gang] tried to kill him and he was badly, badly beaten. So he makes his way back to America and he is detained at entry...not entitled to any type of bond," said Saenz-Rodriguez. "It took us, I want to say, 16 months to get his case heard and ultimately he was granted protection."

"Unfortunately, right now it is a broken system that is overburdened and the immigration judges, even though they want to hear cases, there is just not enough human manpower to get it done," she said.

She added that the immigrants in question often "turn themselves in. They don't sneak across the border. They literally walk up to the bridge or the officer and say 'I'm here seeking protection,' so it is not like they are catching them."

"I mean there is a certain extent of human trafficking where you'll see a smuggler trying to bring people across, but the vast majority of people who have asked for asylum are turning themselves in when they get to the border."

Dr. Christopher Wolfe, a University of Dallas politics professor specializing in Constitutional Law and Catholic Social Teaching, said that "the question of whether this issue involves an injustice or not is not the same as whether the policy is unconstitutional or not. Those are two different questions."

"I would doubt that there is Constitutional grounds for requiring bail hearings for detained immigrants. And, therefore, it seems best to me that those who think such a policy is necessary should go to Congress to get legislation for it," he told CNA.

Saenz-Rodriguez said that she has been encouraged by Dallas Bishop Edward Burns' involvement in seeking to serve the immigrant community in his diocese.

"He's been out there and he immediately formed a task force of all the different sectors of the community trying to say, 'How do we make people understand that this should not be a polarizing issue? This needs to be a humanitarian issue.'"

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