(VitalNews.org) – The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on March 27 in a case that pits free speech against the activities of lawyers and charitable groups who advocate for immigrants to the US.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) is suing Helaman Hansen, who has already been convicted in 2017 of duping 471 immigrants who overstayed their US visas. Hansen took between $550 and $10,000 from them by falsely promising the immigrants they could achieve citizenship through adult adoption programs.
Hansen was convicted of 15 counts of mail and wire fraud and for tricking $1.8 million out of his targets. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
But Hansen was also convicted of illegally encouraging or inducing immigrants to stay in the US. But the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that the US law used in this conviction was “overbroad and unconstitutional.” The DOJ appealed, which is why the case is now before the Supreme Court.
The Court is debating whether the law is in violation of the First Amendment, which protects free speech. Questions arise about whether the law goes too far and could jeopardize the legitimate work of advocates and charitable groups.
The hearing on March 27 lasted an hour and a half. During that time, Deputy Solicitor General Brian H. Fletcher made some concessions but argued the law should be upheld.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor questioned whether the government would “prosecute” a family or grandmother because the grandmother was staying illegally with her family in the US.
Sotomayor asked, “Why should we uphold a statute that criminalizes words. That’s what we’re doing with this statute.”
Justice Brett Kavanagh also pressed the DOJ’s Fletcher, asking what the government would say to charities arguing that the law could be interpreted to criminalize them for offering food and shelter. Kavanagh said such charities seemed to have a sincere and legitimate question.
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