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Legal Fiction Denies Due Process to Immigrants

October 1, 2004

On October 13, 2004, the Supreme Court heard arguments in two cases that may determine whether the U.S. government has the authority to jail noncitizens indefinitely -- and perhaps permanently -- based on civil immigration charges. The cases are Benitez v. Mata and Clark v. Suarez-Martinez,1 and involve two noncitizens who are excludable from the United States, but whom the government is unable to deport because their home countries will not accept them. The government's solution to this dilemma has been to lock these men up, along with hundreds of other people in similar situations, despite the fact that their deportation from the United States is not foreseeable. The government says that this solution is "the only means of exercising the United States' sovereign prerogative to exclude [these noncitizens]....." But this solution, which some courts have found unlawful, denies fundamental rights on the basis of a legal technicality, is profoundly unjust, and comes at a significant expense to the U.S. taxpayer. Further, the practice of indefinite detention undermines the moral authority of the United States throughout the world at a time when the nation can ill afford to do so.