Reno v. Flores

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation113 S.Ct. 1439,123 L.Ed.2d 1,507 U.S. 292
Docket NumberNo. 91-905,91-905
PartiesJanet RENO, Attorney General, et al., Petitioners v. Jenny Lisette FLORES et al
Decision Date23 March 1993

507 U.S. 292
113 S.Ct. 1439
123 L.Ed.2d 1
Janet RENO, Attorney General, et al., Petitioners


Jenny Lisette FLORES et al.

No. 91-905.
Argued Oct. 13, 1992.
Decided March 23, 1993.
Syllabus *

Respondents are a class of alien juveniles arrested by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) on suspicion of being deportable, and then detained pending deportation hearings pursuant to a regulation, promulgated in 1988 and codified at 8 CFR § 242.24, which provides for the release of detained minors only to their parents, close relatives, or legal guardians, except in unusual and compelling circumstances. An immigration judge will review the initial deportability and custody determinations upon request by the juvenile. § 242.2(d). Pursuant to a consent decree entered earlier in the litigation, juveniles who are not released must be placed in juvenile care facilities that meet or exceed state licensing requirements for the provision of services to dependent children. Respondents contend that they have a right under the Constitution and immigration laws to be routinely released into the custody of other "responsible adults." The District Court invalidated the regulatory scheme on unspecified due process grounds, ordering that "responsible adult part[ies]" be added to the list of persons to whom a juvenile must be released and requiring that a hearing before an immigration judge be held automatically, whether or not the juvenile requests it. The Court of Appeals, en banc, affirmed.


1. Because this is a facial challenge to the regulation, respondents must establish that no set of circumstances exists under which the regulation would be valid. United States v. Salerno, 481 U.S. 739, 745, 107 S.Ct. 2095, 2100, 95 L.Ed.2d 697. Pp. ____.

2. Regulation 242.24, on its face, does not violate the Due Process Clause. Pp. ____.

(a) The regulation does not deprive respondents of "substantive due process." The substantive right asserted by respondents is properly described as the right of a child who has no available parent, close relative, or legal guardian, and for whom the government is responsible, to be placed in the custody of a private custodian rather than of a government-operated or government-selected child-care institution. That novel claim cannot be considered " 'so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental.' " United States v. Salerno, supra, at 751, 107 S.Ct. at 2103. It is therefore sufficient that the regulation is rationally connected to the government's interest in preserving and promoting the welfare of detained juveniles, and is not punitive since it is not excessive in relation to that valid purpose. Nor does each unaccompanied juvenile have a substantive right to an individualized hearing on whether private placement would be in his "best interests." Governmental custody must meet minimum standards, as the consent decree indicates it does here, but the decision to exceed those standards is a policy judgment, not a constitutional imperative. Any remaining constitutional doubts are eliminated by the fact that almost all respondents are aliens suspected of being deportable, a class that can be detained, and over which Congress has granted the Attorney General broad discretion regarding detention. 8 U.S.C. § 1252(a)(1). Pp. ____.

(b) Existing INS procedures provide alien juveniles with "procedural due process." Respondents' demand for an individualized custody hearing for each detained alien juvenile is merely the "substantive due process" argument recast in procedural terms. Nor are the procedures faulty because they do not require automatic review by an immigration judge of initial deportability and custody determinations. In the context of this facial challenge, providing the right to review suffices. It has not been shown that all of the juveniles detained are too young or ignorant to exercise that right; any waiver of a hearing is revocable; and there is no evidence of excessive delay in holding hearings when requested. Pp. ____.

3. The regulation does not exceed the scope of the Attorney General's discretion to continue custody over arrested aliens under 8 U.S.C. § 1252(a)(1). It rationally pursues a purpose that is lawful for the INS to seek, striking a balance between the INS's concern that the juveniles' welfare will not permit their release to just any adult and the INS's assessment that it has neither the expertise nor the resources to conduct home studies for individualized placements. The list of approved custodians reflects the traditional view that parents and close relatives are competent custodians, and otherwise defers to the States' proficiency in the field of child custody. The regulation is not motivated by administrative convenience; its use of presumptions and generic rules is reasonable; and the period of detention that may result is limited by the pending deportation hearing, which must be concluded with reasonable dispatch to avoid habeas corpus. Pp. ____.

942 F.2d 1352 (CA9 1991), reversed and remanded.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, O'CONNOR, KENNEDY, SOUTER, and THOMAS, JJ., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which SOUTER, J., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BLACKMUN, J., joined.

Maureen E. Mahoney, for petitioners.

Carlos Holguin, for respondents.

Justice SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.

Over the past decade, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has arrested increasing numbers of alien juveniles who are not accompanied by their parents or other related adults. Respondents, a class of alien juveniles so arrested and held in INS custody pending their deportation hearings, contend that the Constitution and immigration laws require them to be released into the custody of "responsible adults."


Congress has given the Attorney General broad discretion to determine whether and on what terms an alien arrested on suspicion of being deportable should be released pending the deportation hearing.1 The Board of Immigration Appeals has stated that "[a]n alien generally . . . should not be detained or required to post bond except on a finding that he is a threat to the national security . . . or that he is a poor bail risk." Matter of Patel, 15 I. & N. Dec. 666 (1976); cf. INS v. National Center for Immigrants' Rights (NCIR), 502 U.S. ----, 112 S.Ct. 551, 116 L.Ed.2d 546 (1991) (upholding INS regulation imposing conditions upon release). In the case of arrested alien juveniles, however, the INS cannot simply send them off into the night on bond or recognizance. The parties to the present suit agree that the Service must assure itself that someone will care for those minors pending resolution of their deportation proceedings. That is easily done when the juvenile's parents have also been detained and the family can be released together; it becomes complicated when the juveniles are arrested alone, i.e. unaccompanied by a parent, guardian, or other related adult. This problem is a serious one, since the INS arrests thousands of alien juveniles each year (more than 8,500 in 1990 alone)—as many as 70% of them unaccompanied. Brief for Petitioners 8. Most of these minors are boys in their mid-teens, but perhaps 15% are girls and the same percentage 14 years of age or younger. See id., at 9, n. 12; App. to Pet. for Cert. 177a.

For a number of years the problem was apparently dealt with on a regional and ad hoc basis, with some INS offices releasing unaccompanied alien juveniles not only to their parents but also to a range of other adults and organizations. In 1984, responding to the increased flow of unaccompanied juvenile aliens into California, the INS Western Regional Office adopted a policy of limiting the release of detained minors to " 'a parent or lawful guardian,' " except in " 'unusual and extraordinary cases,' " when the juvenile could be released to " 'a responsible individual who agrees to provide care and be responsible for the welfare and well being of the child.' " See Flores v. Meese, 934 F.2d 991, 994 (CA9 1990) (quoting policy), vacated, 942 F.2d 1352 (CA9 1991) (en banc).

In July of the following year, the four respondents filed an action in the District Court for the Central District of California on behalf of a class, later certified by the court, consisting of all aliens under the age of 18 who are detained by the INS Western Region because "a parent or legal guardian fails to personally appear to take custody of them." App. 29. The complaint raised seven claims, the first two challenging the Western Region release policy (on constitutional, statutory, and international law grounds), and the final five challenging the conditions of the juveniles' detention.

The District Court granted the INS partial summary judgment on the statutory and international-law challenges to the release policy, and in late 1987 approved a consent decree that settled all claims regarding the detention conditions. The court then turned to the constitutional challenges to the release policy, and granted the respondents partial summary judgment on their equal-protection claim that the INS had no rational basis for treating alien minors in deportation proceedings differently from alien minors in exclusion proceedings 2 (whom INS regulations permitted to be paroled, in some circumstances, to persons other than parents and legal guardians, including other relatives and "friends," see 8 CFR § 212.5(a)(2)(ii) (1987)). This prompted the INS to initiate notice-and-comment rulemaking "to codify Service policy regarding detention and release of juvenile aliens and to provide a single policy for juveniles in both deportation and exclusion proceedings." 52 Fed.Reg. 38245 (1987). The District Court agreed to defer consideration of respondents' due process claims until the regulation was...

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