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Zadvydas v. Davis - 533 U.S. 678, 121 S. Ct. 2491 (2001)

Rule:

For the sake of uniform administration in the federal courts, the United States Supreme court recognizes six months as a presumptively reasonable post-removal detention period pursuant to 8 U.S.C.S § 1231(a)(6). After this six-month period, once the alien provides good reason to believe that there is no significant likelihood of removal in the reasonably foreseeable future, the government must respond with evidence sufficient to rebut that showing. And for detention to remain reasonable, as the period of prior post-removal confinement grows, what counts as the "reasonably foreseeable future" conversely would have to shrink. This six-month presumption, of course, does not mean that every alien not removed must be released after six months. To the contrary, an alien may be held in confinement until it has been determined that there is no significant likelihood of removal in the reasonably foreseeable future. 

Facts:

In consolidated cases arising out of detention under 8 U.S.C.S. 1231(a)(6), a detained alien and the United States Attorney General sought review of decisions of the United States Courts of Appeal for the Fifth and Ninth Circuits regarding authority to further detain an alien beyond the 90-day statutory removal period. In each case, aliens were ordered removed after having been admitted to the United States. Immigration and Naturalization authorities could not locate a country amenable to receive the deportable aliens, so the aliens were detained indefinitely. Both aliens sought habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C.S. § 2241, which the United States Supreme Court held was proper for jurisdictional purposes. The Fifth Circuit reversed a district court judgment, and held that continued detention was not in violation of the U.S. Constitution, and the alien sought review. In the second case, the government sought review of the Ninth Circuit's decision that affirmed a district court judgment ordering the release of the detained alien, and held that the Constitution allowed reasonable detention beyond the 90-day period; the district court found that there was not a realistic chance for the alien to be deported due to lack of a repatriation treaty with his home country of Cambodia.

Issue:

Did the Attorney General possess the authority, in his sole discretion, to detain a removable alien indefinitely beyond the 90-day removal period?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The United States Supreme Court vacated the decisions and interpreted § 1231(a)(6) as containing an implicit "reasonable time" limitation of six months, the application of which was subject to federal court review. It ruled that there was no clear indication of congressional intent to grant the Attorney General the power to hold indefinitely in confinement an alien ordered removed. The Court held that six months was a presumptively reasonable post-removal detention period pursuant to 8 U.S.C.S § 1231(a)(6). After this six-month period, once the alien provides good reason to believe that there is no significant likelihood of removal in the reasonably foreseeable future, the government must respond with evidence sufficient to rebut that showing. And for detention to remain reasonable, as the period of prior post-removal confinement grows, what counts as the "reasonably foreseeable future" conversely would have to shrink. The Court stated that the six-month presumption did not mean that every alien not removed must be released after six months. To the contrary, an alien could be held in confinement until it has been determined that there is no significant likelihood of removal in the reasonably foreseeable future.

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