Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, today released the following statement in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Nielsen v. Preap:

“The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the most extreme interpretation of the mandatory immigration detention statute, which imprisons thousands of people without any hearing to determine if they need to be locked up in the first place. Our immigration detention system separates families, and it ruins lives. This approach to detention is contrary to common sense and our fundamental values. In America, liberty should be the norm for everyone—and detention the last resort. The ACLU remains deeply committed to fighting for immigrants’ rights here in Massachusetts and across the country.”


In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court today reversed a decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Nielsen v. Preap. The ACLU represented immigrants who challenged the federal government’s sweeping interpretation of a 1996 law, arguing it expanded mandatory detention far beyond what Congress intended, resulting in gross violations of due process for thousands of immigrants.

The court held that the mandatory detention statute, which plainly provides for detention without any hearing “when” an immigrant “is released” from a prior criminal custody, applies even when immigration agents arrest individuals years after their release.

In a related Massachusetts case, Gordon v. Napolitano, the ACLU of Massachusetts and its partners successfully argued the government could not hold a category of noncitizens in mandatory, no-bond detention while their immigration cases are being resolved. Since 2014, an injunction in the case has allowed hundreds of people to be reunited with their families after showing that they did not pose a danger or flight risk that warranted detention during their immigration proceedings.

In part because of the ACLU of Massachusetts’ lawsuit, Clayton Gordon (pictured with his family) was able to be out on bond while he continued to fight his immigration case. On December 11, 2018, an immigration judge awarded him cancellation of removal, and the Department of Homeland Security did not appeal. The decision ended Gordon’s five-year battle with deportation.

Gordon is a lawful permanent resident, U.S. army veteran, business-owner, husband, and father. In 2013, he was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and subjected to mandatory detention on the basis of a single drug crime, even though five years had passed since he was released from criminal custody for that crime.