United States v. Hansen - Wikipedia

United States v. Hansen
Argued March 27, 2023
Full case nameUnited States v. Helaman Hansen
Docket no.22-179
Case history
PriorDefendant convicted, and motion to dismiss two counts denied (E.D. Cal. 2017); vacated and remanded in part, 25 F.4th 1103 (9th Cir. 2022); rehearing denied, 40 F.4th 1049 (9th Cir. 2022); cert. granted (Dec 9, 2022)
Questions presented
Whether the federal criminal prohibition against encouraging or inducing unlawful immigration for commercial advantage or private financial gain, in violation of 8 U.S.C. 1324(a)(1)(A)(iv) and (B)(i), is facially unconstitutional on First Amendment overbreadth grounds.
Court membership
Chief Justice
John Roberts
Associate Justices
Clarence Thomas · Samuel Alito
Sonia Sotomayor · Elena Kagan
Neil Gorsuch · Brett Kavanaugh
Amy Coney Barrett · Ketanji Brown Jackson

United States v. Hansen (Docket 22-179) is a pending United States Supreme Court case about whether a federal law that criminalizes encouraging or inducing illegal immigration is unconstitutionally overbroad, violating the First Amendment right to free speech.


Helaman Hansen operated an adult adoption program which he falsely claimed would lead to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. He persuaded victims to illegally come to the United States or overstay their visas. In a 2017 federal court trial, a jury convicted him of multiple counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, and encouraging or inducing illegal immigration for financial gain. The district court sentenced Hansen to 20 years in prison.[1][2][3]

The two counts of encouraging or inducing were for violations of 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(iv), which states that it is a crime to "encourage[] or induce[] 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".[4] Hansen appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, arguing that this provision was unconstitutionally overbroad under the First Amendment.[1][2]

Meanwhile, the Court of Appeals was deciding another case, United States v. Sineneng-Smith, involving the same First Amendment question, and put Hansen's case on hold. Sineneng-Smith went to the Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court in 2020 decided that case on a procedural issue without deciding the First Amendment question.[1]

Afterwards, the court of appeals resumed Hansen's case, ruling in Hansen's favor that the law was overbroad and unconstitutional. The government petitioned to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.[5][2]

Case information[edit]

In February 2023, the ACLU along with the Federal Defender’s Office for the Eastern District of California filed a brief on behalf of Hansen, where they urged the Supreme Court to strike down the statute for violating the First Amendment. The ACLU argues that because the "encouragement" provision of the statute is so broad, it would make it a crime "for a grandmother to express a wish that her undocumented grandchild not leave the country, or for an attorney to advise that a noncitizen will forfeit statutory or constitutional rights or benefits if she leaves the country."[6]

The Cato Institute, which filed an amicus brief in favor of Hansen, argued, "A law is facially overbroad when the amount of unprotected speech that it legitimately forbids is eclipsed by the amount of protected speech that it suppresses."[7]

The federal government, in their brief, defends the law by arguing that "for more than a century, federal law has prescribed criminal penalties for 'encouraging' or 'inducing' certain violations of the immigration laws." As its starting point in defense of the law, the government's brief points to "the first general immigration statute" that Congress passed in 1882.[8]

Organizations filing an amicus brief include the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, City and County of San Francisco, The Rutherford Institute, The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the First Amendment Coalition Freedom of the Press Foundation, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Immigration Reform Law Institute, and Pfizer Inc.[9]

The State of Montana also filed a brief on behalf of itself and 25 other U.S. states, encouraging the Supreme Court to reverse the appeals court decision, keeping the law intact.[10]


  1. ^ a b c "Federal ban on inducing unlawful immigration for financial gain may get another Supreme Court test". SCOTUSblog. December 7, 2022.
  2. ^ a b c "Supreme Court takes case on immigration scam case". Associated Press. December 9, 2022.
  3. ^ "Elk Grove businessman convicted of massive adoption-for-citizenship scam". Sacramento Bee. May 9, 2017. Archived from the original on December 28, 2017.
  4. ^ 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(iv)
  5. ^ "Justices take up four new cases, including challenge to federal ban on encouraging illegal immigration". SCOTUSblog. December 9, 2022.
  6. ^ "ACLU, Federal Defender's Office Argue to Supreme Court that First Amendment Protects Speech that Merely Encourages Undocumented Persons to Remain in U.S." American Civil Liberties Union. Retrieved 2023-03-16.
  7. ^ "United States v. Hansen". The Cato Institute. 2023-02-24. Retrieved 2023-03-16.
  8. ^ Brief for the United States. United States of America, Petitioner v. Helaman Hansen. pp. 4-5.
  9. ^ "United States v. Hansen". SCOTUSblog. Retrieved 2023-03-16.
  10. ^ Wiessner, Daniel (2023-02-07). "States urge U.S. Supreme Court to revive ban on encouraging illegal immigration". Reuters. Retrieved 2023-03-16.