The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear a bid by President Joe Biden’s administration to revive a federal law that makes it a criminal offense to encourage illegal immigration after it was struck down by a lower court as a violation of free speech rights.
The justices took up the administration’s appeal of a February ruling by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals invalidating the law for infringing on rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.
The 9th Circuit’s ruling threw out part of the conviction of a California man, Helaman Hansen, who had been prosecuted under the law.
The dispute is similar to one that the Supreme Court heard, but did not resolve, in 2020. The federal government accused Hansen of deceiving undocumented immigrants between 2012 and 2016 by promising them that they could gain U.S. citizenship through an “adult adoption” program operated by his Sacramento-based business, Americans Helping America Chamber of Commerce.
The government said Hansen persuaded at least 471 people to join his program, charging them each up to $10,000 even though he “knew that the adult adoptions that he touted would not lead to U.S. citizenship.”
Hansen was convicted in 2017 of violating provisions of the federal law that bars inducing or encouraging noncitizens “to come to, enter, or reside” in the United States illegally, as well as mail fraud and wire fraud and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
On appeal, the 9th Circuit in February ruled that the encouragement law is unconstitutional because it is overly broad and criminalizes even commonplace speech that is protected by the First Amendment, such as telling undocumented immigrants, “I encourage you to reside in the United States,” or advising them about available social services.
The 9th Circuit upheld Hansen’s other convictions and ordered that he be resentenced.
Biden’s administration urged the Supreme Court to hear the case, faulting the appeals court for invalidating an “important tool for combating activities that exacerbate unlawful immigration.”
The case will be heard during the court’s current term, with a ruling due by June 2023.