Victory! Supreme Court Upholds Anti-Harboring Law

Press Releases

June 23, 2023

Agrees with IRLI that causing illegal immigration is not protected free speech

WASHINGTON—Today, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a federal statute making it a crime to induce aliens to break federal immigration law. The Court’s decision reversed the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which had found the law an “overbroad” restriction on free speech under the First Amendment. The Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) had filed a brief with the Court in support of the law.

The First Amendment overbreadth argument was made by Helaman Hansen, who was charged with taking fees from aliens for helping them seek citizenship through fraudulent “adult adoption.” This inducement made the aliens illegally overstay their visas.

In its brief, IRLI argued that the First Amendment does not protect criminal enterprises that rely on speech. Just as it is illegal to commit false advertising or blackmail, or to run pyramid schemes, so it is illegal to trick people out of their money and induce them to break immigration law. Properly interpreted, the law against encouraging or inducing aliens to break immigration laws does not penalize First Amendment-protected speech, but only crimes carried out by speech.

Today, agreeing with IRLI, the Court interpreted the law as only penalizing a narrow band of speech—that which “encourages” or “induces” law-breaking in the technical senses of these terms that Congress intended. So interpreted, the law does not violate anyone’s free speech rights, certainly not any “right” Hansen had to commit fraud.

“The anti-harboring law is vital in immigration law enforcement,” said Dale L. Wilcox, executive director and general counsel of IRLI. “Though activists may not like immigration laws, that does not give them the right to cause others to violate them. It would have been disastrous if the Court had sent the opposite message today. We are pleased that didn’t happen, and that the Court instead interpreted the law in a way that protects both law enforcement and the right to free speech.”

The case is United States v. Hansen, No. 22-179 (Supreme Court).

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