The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck down a federal law that made it a crime to encourage illegal immigration. A three-judge panel vacated a conviction, ruling that the statute was overbroad and unconstitutional, reports Law & Crime. Helaman Hansen worked with the group Americans Helping America Chamber of Commerce (AHA), which encouraged undocumented immigrants to obtain U.S. citizenship through adult adoption. Nearly 500 people paid more than $1.8 million to the group. Adult adoption is not a means of becoming a U.S. citizen. Hansen was sentenced to 240 months in prison for twelve counts of mail fraud, three counts of wire fraud, and two counts of encouraging or inducing illegal immigration for private financial gain.
He was found guilty of encouraging two immigrants to illegally overstay their visas. Hansen argued —and the appeals court agreed — that the statute underlying his conviction had been overbroad and that his conviction should be overturned. Judge Ronald Gould found that “Many commonplace statements and actions could be construed as encouraging or inducing an undocumented immigrant to come to or reside in the United States.” The judge listed examples such as encouraging an undocumented immigrant to take shelter during a natural disaster, advising an undocumented immigrant about available social services, and telling a tourist that she is unlikely to face serious consequences if she overstays her tourist visa. Because those actions would clearly constitute protected speech under the First Amendment, their inclusion in the statute’s prohibitions are problematic, Gould said.