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The Supreme Court’s decision overturned a ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on a statute about when immigrants who committed crimes making them eligible for deportation must be arrested. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
March 19 (UPI) — The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that federal authorities can arrest legal immigrants for deportation for crimes they committed years earlier, offering a broader interpretation of an ambiguous federal statute on the matter.

The court voted 5-4 to back the Trump administration in its attempts to detain deportation-eligible migrants with criminal records, even if they served prison time years ago.

The statute in question says federal officials may arrest an immigrant who has committed certain crimes “when the alien is released” from local or state custody. But the law doesn’t say whether the federal officials must take the migrant into custody immediately upon release or if they may do so at a later date.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ interpretation was that the arrest by federal authorities must come immediately upon release by local authorities.

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The Supreme Court didn’t agree.

“As we have held time and again, an official’s crucial duties are better carried out late than never,” Justice Samuel Alito Jr. wrote in the majority opinion.

The ruling also finds that federal authorities can detain the immigrants for an indefinite period of time as they await deportation.

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“I would have thought that Congress meant to adhere to these values and did not intend to allow the Government to apprehend persons years after their release from prison and hold them indefinitely without a bail hearing,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the dissenting opinion.

“In my view, the Court should interpret the words of this statute to reflect Congress’ likely intent, an intent that is consistent with our basic values.”

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