Is encouraging migrants to cross the border illegally free speech or a felony?

President Joe Biden’s response to the border crisis has widely been considered a failure and ahead of a Supreme Court case where his administration has sought to crack down on illegal entries by, of all things, targeting the First Amendment, Texas residents were presented with a simple question.

“Free speech or felony?”

(Video: Fox News Digital)

At the center of the debate is the upcoming case of United States v. Hansen which the Supreme Court agreed to hear in December after the Biden administration petitioned to appeal a February ruling from the traditionally progressive 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The federal government had accused California resident Helaman Hansen of violating a federal law that bars the encouragement of illegal aliens “to come to, enter, or reside” in the United States for which he was convicted of after he was said to have done so to 471 individuals between 2012 and 2016. Each had been charged up to $10,000 to participate in an “adult adoption” program that he had created through his business, Americans Helping America Chamber of Commerce.

The 9th Circuit found the law was unconstitutional as it could criminalize even mundane statements like “I encourage you to reside in the United States,” and ordered Hansen be resentenced for his other convictions that included wire fraud and mail fraud.

Fox News traveled to the capital of the Lone Star State whose motto, “Keep Austin Weird,” certainly didn’t speak to the more conservative surrounding Hill Country, and asked Texas residents who’ve most taken the brunt of the border crisis whether encouraging illegal immigration should be considered a felony.

For some such as Austin resident Bronte, the matter was straightforward, “It’s a First Amendment right. You could be saying it in the most mundane way, like, ‘Oh, you can stay here longer,’ and that could technically be a felony.”

She admitted that her boyfriend had been born in Mexico and was “documented” before noting her own distaste for use of the qualifiers “illegal” and “alien.”

Another vote in favor of the First Amendment came from Nav, formerly of of Toronto, Canada where free speech is not a protected right, who said, “I think it shouldn’t be a felony for people to…have that free speech and encourage people if they want to.”

But others viewed the matter as black and white from the other side the argument and defended the original passage of the law. A man identified as Nick told Fox News, “I do think that it should be a crime to encourage people to stay in the country illegally. You’re encouraging someone to break the law and that responsibility should fall on your part.”

Likewise, another Austin resident named Tim said, “You shouldn’t encourage anybody to do anything illegally. Obviously they put that into law with the thinking that that was the right idea.”

“I think it still makes sense today,” he added of the statute which had originally been enacted in 1986.

A similar case was heard by the Supreme Court after former President Donald Trump’s administration had attempted an appeal of a 2018 ruling, but no ruling was issued.

Should a ruling be issued by the Supreme Court on United States v. Hansen it would be expected no later than June 2023 when the current term concludes.

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Kevin Haggerty

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