WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Friday upheld a section of federal law used to prosecute people who encourage illegal immigration, ruling against a California man who offered adult adoptions he falsely claimed would lead to U.S. citizenship.
The court by a 7-2 vote rejected arguments that the law is too broad and violates the Constitution.
The case involves a section of federal immigration law that says a person who “encourages or induces” a non-citizen to come to or remain in the United States illegally can be punished by up to five years in prison. That’s increased to 10 years if the person doing the encouraging is doing so for personal financial gain.
Writing for a majority of her colleagues Justice Amy Coney Barrett said that while a lower court had found the section of the law was unconstitutionally overbroad, “That was an error.” Two of the court’s three liberal justices, Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, dissented.
The case in front of the court involved Helaman Hansen, who lived in Elk Grove, California, near Sacramento. The federal government says that from 2012 to 2016, Hansen deceived hundreds of non-citizens into believing that he could guarantee them a path to citizenship through adult adoption.
Based on Hansen’s promises, officials say, people either came to or stayed in the United States in violation of the law, even though Hansen knew that the adult adoptions he was arranging would not lead to citizenship. The government says that at least 471 people paid him between $550 and $10,000 each and that in total he collected more than $1.8 million.
Hansen was ultimately convicted of encouragement charges as well as fraud charges. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison on the encouragement charges and 20 years on the fraud charges. But a federal appeals court ruled that the law on encouragement is overbroad and violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment and overturned just those convictions.
In her opinion, Barrett wrote that “Hansen asks us to throw out too much of the good based on a speculative shot at the bad.” She said: “This is not the stuff of overbreadth.”
The case is United States v. Helaman Hansen, 22-179.