By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday took up a new dispute over the detention of immigrants, agreeing to hear an appeal by President Donald Trump's administration of a lower court ruling it says hampers the deportation of immigrants who have committed crimes.
The case, the latest immigration-related dispute to come before the nine justices at a time when the administration has taken a hard line toward immigrants, involves people convicted of criminal offenses who are detained by the government for possible deportation after finishing their sentences.
Under federal immigration law, immigrants who are convicted of certain offenses are subject to mandatory detention during their deportation process. They can be held indefinitely without a bond hearing after completing their criminal sentences.
The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2016 that convicted immigrants who are not immediately detained by immigration authorities after finishing their sentences cannot later be placed into indefinite detention awaiting possible deportation. The 9th Circuit decided that immigrants later detained after completing their prison time - sometimes years later - could seek bond hearings to argue for their release.
The administration has stepped up immigration enforcement, making it likely that growing numbers of people will be detained awaiting deportation, and is locked in a fight with so-called sanctuary states and cities that offer protection to illegal immigrants.
At bond hearings, immigrants can argue that they should be released on the basis they are not a danger to society or are not a flight risk.
"Bond hearings are necessary to prevent pointless and arbitrary detention," said Michael Tan, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union who represents various immigrants who filed suit.
"There is no reason or authorization for the government to refuse to provide bond hearings to individuals like the class members in this case," Tan added.
The high court agreed to take up the dispute after ruling in another immigrant detention case on Feb. 27. The justices in that case curbed the ability of immigrants held in long-term detention during deportation proceedings to argue for their release, overturning another 9th Circuit ruling.
The plaintiffs in the new case included two legal U.S. residents involved in separate lawsuits filed in 2013, a Cambodian immigrant named Mony Preap convicted of marijuana possession and a Palestinian immigrant named Bassam Yusuf Khoury convicted of attempting to manufacture a controlled substance.
The law in question states that the government can detain convicted immigrants "when the alien is released" from criminal detention. Civil rights lawyers for two groups of plaintiffs argued that the language of the law shows that it applies only immediately after immigrants are released.
Just as former President Barack Obama's administration had argued, the Trump administration said the government had the power to detain such immigrants at any time.
The court will hear arguments and decide the case in its next term, which begins in October and ends in June 2019.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)