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Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Appeal of California Man Convicted in Fraudulent Immigration Scheme

The Supreme Court agreed on Dec. 9 to hear the appeal of a California man convicted of facilitating illegal immigration by promising would-be immigrants they could remain in the United States permanently if they enrolled in a non-existent “adult adoption” program.

The man’s lawyers say the conviction should be overturned because he was engaged in free speech protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The case comes two years after the Supreme Court ruled against San Jose, California-based immigration consultant Evelyn Sineneng-Smith who was accused of duping illegal aliens into paying her fees to file frivolous applications for visas and encouraging them to stay in the country unlawfully. The program under which the clients sought immigration status was real but had expired by the time Sineneng-Smith steered them toward it.

An appeals court found that the law under which the woman was convicted was “unconstitutionally overbroad” because it “criminalizes a substantial amount of protected expression in relation to the statute’s narrow legitimate sweep.” But the Supreme Court reversed on procedural grounds, without reaching the First Amendment question, The Epoch Times reported at the time.

Helaman Hansen of Elk Grove, California, was convicted by a federal jury of getting at least 471 prospective immigrants from 2012 to 2016 to sign up for the fraudulent program that he claimed would put them on a path to citizenship. Hansen charged his victims up to $10,000 each to enroll in the scheme. The individuals were falsely advised that they could become U.S. citizens if they were to be adopted by an existing U.S. citizen. Some of the individuals Hansen dealt with were already present unlawfully in the U.S., while others had legal status but chose to overstay their visas after he assured them it would not be a problem.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled in Hansen’s favor, finding that the relevant laws violated constitutionally protected free speech rights.

“Merely encouraging someone to engage in illegal activity is protected by the First Amendment,” Hansen’s lawyers said in a brief (pdf) filed Oct. 28.

The so-called encouragement provision in Section 1324 of the Immigration and Nationality Act prohibits “encourag[ing] or induc[ing] an alien to come to, enter, or reside in the United States, knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that such coming to, entry, or residence is or will be in violation of law.”

The 9th Circuit found the statute “criminalizes a substantial amount of speech protected by the First Amendment and is unconstitutionally overbroad,” according to the brief.

The case is United States v. Hansen, court file 22-179. The Supreme Court granted the petition for certiorari, or review, near close of business on Dec. 9 in an unsigned order. No justices indicated they were dissenting from the decision to grant the hearing.

Hansen was convicted of two counts of encouraging or inducing unlawful immigration for private financial gain, 12 counts of mail fraud, and three counts of wire fraud. The federal district court sentenced him to 20 years of imprisonment, to be followed by two years of supervised release, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) stated in a brief (pdf) filed with the court.

“Laws against incentivizing or procuring civil immigration violations have a particularly long pedigree,” the DOJ said. “This Court recognized more than a century ago, without discussing the First Amendment, that Congress’s power to define the immigration laws goes hand-in-hand with its ability to prohibit encouraging someone to violate those laws.”

After the sentencing in 2017, Phillip Talbert, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California, said the sentence “acknowledges the vast number of people victimized by the defendant. He preyed upon hundreds of people who wanted to find a pathway to American citizenship and exploited their hopes and dreams for his own financial gain. The defendant’s lies and false promises caused many to part with substantial amounts of money, and in some instances, a lifetime’s worth of savings.”

Hansen’s attorney, Carolyn Wiggin of the Office of the Federal Defender in Sacramento, told The Epoch Times she was pleased that the high court agreed to take her client’s case.

“I am looking forward to continuing to advocate for Mr. Hansen. The Ninth Circuit, as well as the Tenth Circuit in a separate case, recognized that under the plain language of the statutory subsection, a vast amount of speech protected by the First Amendment is criminalized,” she said by email.

“I hope the Supreme Court clarifies that the subsection is void under the First Amendment,” Wiggin said.

The Epoch Times reached out for comment to the U.S. Department of Justice but had not received a reply as of press time.

The case is expected to be heard early next year or in the spring.

Matthew Vadum


Matthew Vadum is an award-winning investigative journalist and a recognized expert in left-wing activism.

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