On March 3, Perla Morales-Luna was walking near her home in National City, CA, a suburb of San Diego, with her three young daughters when Border Patrol agents suddenly rolled up in a van. The agents roughly pulled Morales-Luna away from her daughters and hustled her into the van. A video of the event circulated on the Internet has caused outrage.
Benjamin Prado, coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee’s San Diego U.S.-Mexico Border Program, denounced the arrest, calling it “a grotesque way of detaining and enforcing immigration law. It is very quickly accelerating to a very tyrannical form of detention and arrest, snatching people up off the street.”
The assault on the human rights of immigrants—which is really an assault on everyone’s rights—escalated to a new stage in February. On February 27, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that immigrants, even those with permanent legal status and asylum seekers, do not have the right to periodic bond hearings (Jennings v. Rodriguez).
“Immigration officials are authorized to detain certain aliens in the course of immigration proceedings while they determine whether those aliens may be lawfully present in the country,” the court ruled.
One dissenting voice on the court is sounding the alarm about the attack on our constitutional rights, Justice Stephen G. Breyer.
“We need only recall the words of the Declaration of Independence,” Breyer said, “in particular its insistence that all men and women have ‘certain unalienable Rights,’ and that among them is the right to ‘Liberty.’”
Breyer added, “No one can claim, nor since the time of slavery has anyone to my knowledge successfully claimed, that persons held within the United States are totally without constitutional protection.”
The unalienable right to liberty translates to the right to a bond. With no right to bond out of custody, immigrants appealing detentions, legal permanent residents whom the government wants to deport because they allegedly committed crimes, and asylum seekers who are awaiting a court date after turning themselves in at the border could be indefinitely detained.
We should remember the famous poem written by the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller about the cowardice of German intellectuals following the Nazis’ rise to power. The poem begins, “First they came for the Communists/And I did not speak out/Because I was not a Communist…” Then Niemoller lists the other groups the Nazis came for – the socialists, the trade unionists, the Jews—and he concludes: “Then they came for me/And there was no one left/To speak out for me.”
This is the danger behind this decision. It first attacks immigrants and refugee seekers. But if no one raises their voice against it, when they get around to denying bond to citizens, will there be someone there to defend us?