Encouraging Illegal Immigration Is Protected Speech, Court Says

(Bloomberg) -- A federal law that bars Americans from encouraging or inducing a foreigner to stay in the U.S. illegally violates the First Amendment’s protections of free speech, an appeals court ruled Tuesday.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the conviction of California immigrant counselor Evelyn Sineneng-Smith on the grounds that she was prosecuted under a law that the judges called “unconstitutionally overbroad.”

The statute permits authorities to prosecute anyone who “encourages or induces an alien to come to, enter, or reside in the United States,” if that person knew the alien’s presence in the U.S. was illegal. The court ruled that the law “criminalizes a substantial amount of constitutionally-protected expression.”

Sineneng-Smith operated an immigration consulting firm in San Jose, primarily catering to natives of the Philippines who were living in the U.S. and working illegally in home health care. She was convicted in 2013 of two felony counts of violating the immigration law and two counts of mail fraud. The court upheld the mail fraud convictions.

The case is U.S. v. Sineneng-Smith, 15-10614, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

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