A federal law that makes it a crime for a person to encourage illegal immigration does not violate constitutional free speech protections, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Friday in upholding the decades-old measure defended by President Joe Biden’s administration.
The 7-2 ruling, authored by conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, overturned a lower court’s decision to strike down the provision, part of a larger immigration statute, in a case involving a California man named Helaman Hansen who deceived immigrants through a phony “adult adoption” program. The lower court had found the law overly broad because it may criminalize speech protected by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.
The measure bars inducing or encouraging noncitizens “to come to, enter or reside” in the United States illegally, including for financial gain.
Endorsing the administration’s view of the law, Barrett wrote: “Properly interpreted, this provision forbids only the intentional solicitation or facilitation of certain unlawful acts.”
Barrett wrote that the law does not prohibit a substantial amount of protected speech.
Liberal Justices Ketanji Brown Jackson and Sonia Sotomayor dissented from the decision.
American Civil Liberties Union attorney Esha Bhandari, who helped represent Hansen, said, “As written by Congress, the law has left people wondering what they can safely say on the subject of immigration. Now we expect the government to respect free speech rights and only enforce the law narrowly going forward.”
The case was one of two immigration-related rulings issued by the court on Friday.