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Immigrants are part of society and deserve rights

The Supreme Court has ruled that immigrants, legal or otherwise, can be held without a hearing and deported, even if they are not dangerous and are unlikely to flee.

In a 5-4 decision, the court upheld a 1996 immigration law that seeks to rid the nation of “criminal aliens.” The law requires mandatory detention and deportation of all immigrants, even those who are longtime lawful residents, if they have committed a crime that is punishable by at least a year in prison, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“This court has firmly and repeatedly endorsed the proposition that Congress may make rules as to aliens that would be unacceptable if applied to citizens,” Chief Justice William Rehnquist said.

This statement has appeared on every article related to the Supreme Court’s decision. Why should one person have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness when another should be denied these basic rights?

One could argue that we pay taxes and contribute to American society so we should be granted more rights. But legal aliens pay taxes and all residents, legal or illegal, contribute to our society. We cannot make the case for basic human rights when we exclude certain human groups, such as people born outside the borders of the United States.

A Korean immigrant and legal resident of the United States since the 1980s, Hyung Joon Kim is an example of how the system and this law fails to fairly impose justice. The former San Jose resident convicted of burglary for breaking into a tool shed, and later of petty theft, was immediately detained without bail to await deportation after completing his state sentence in 1999.

Kim’s case went to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that his case should have received a bail hearing because his crimes were “rather ordinary.”

Justice David Souter wrote that the government “can’t simply avoid the due process clause by selecting a class of people for confinement on a categorical basis and denying members of that class any chance to dispute the necessity of putting them away.”

It is not a great comfort to know that only a few of our justices value basic human rights. Kim was lucky. The 75,000 criminal immigrants who have been detained will most likely not be as lucky.

Under the 1996 law, which the Supreme Court upheld, Congress deemed any “aggravated felony” or recent crime of “moral turpitude” makes an immigrant subject to deportation.

The Times reported that, in practice, lesser offenses such a shoplifting and possession of stolen property have been deemed to be aggravated felonies because they resulted in a jail term of one year or more.

The United States is host to an estimated 11 million permanent resident immigrants, or green card holders. The Supreme Court is failing in its duty to protect equality and fairness and justice with its recent decision. How can it make a case for equality for anyone when it rules that those 11 million people have less of a right to justice than another person?

U-Wire, California State University