Advancing Justice | AAJC Files Supreme Court Brief Against Statute That Violates First Amendment Rights

Civil Rights Group Says Statute Seeks to Criminalize Immigrant Advocates
For Immediate Release
Michelle Boykins 202-296-2300, ext. 0144
Mary Tablante 202-296-2300, ext. 0114

January 22, 2020—Today, Advancing Justice | AAJC (Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC) filed an amicus brief before the Supreme Court in United States v. Sineneng-Smith to urge the Court to strike down a federal statute that makes it a felony to “encourage or induce” individuals to enter or remain in the U.S. unlawfully. This statute has the potential to chill the everyday work of immigrants’ rights advocates and service providers who often assist undocumented individuals, their families, and their communities. The brief was joined by 33 community-based, advocacy, and social services organizations.

Advancing Justice | AAJC asserts that the statute violates the First Amendment, which guarantees our right to free speech and expression. In December 2018, the Ninth Circuit held that this provision was unconstitutional because it was overbroad and infringed on free speech. The government filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to review, and the Court agreed to take up this case. The Court will hear oral arguments on February 25, 2020. 

The overbroad nature of this statute could impact community-based, advocacy, and social services organizations in countless ways. For instance, work that could be considered a crime may include Know Your Rights workshops and materials advising immigrants about their rights in the face of immigration enforcement; calling for the release of individuals in ICE detention or removal proceedings; advocating for policy reforms to protect and advance the rights of undocumented immigrants, such as “driver’s licenses for all” legislation; social media posts showing support for undocumented immigrants and calling for legislative or other actions; and providing services such as health care and emergency funds for undocumented immigrants and families. 

“This statute threatens everyday interactions with immigrants and people advocating on behalf of them because any speech that could be construed as helping an immigrant stay in the United States would be seen as a violation of the law,” said Niyati Shah, assistant director of legal advocacy at Advancing Justice | AAJC. “In a time where there is already so much fear, immigrant communities and their advocates should be able to receive legal help and information without fear that such help will subject them to prosecution.”

Stories in the brief are from the organizations Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Chicago, Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon Communities United Fund (APANO), Arab American Institute, Asian Services in Action, Inc., Chinese-American Planning Council, Farmworker Justice, MinKwon Center for Community Action, National Korean American Service and Education Consortium (NAKASEC), New Mexico Asian Family Center, OneAmerica, Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), and ReleaseMN8.