Wednesday, November 20, 2019
Supreme Court sets briefing in case reviewing immigration advocacy as violation of statute prohibiting enouragement of unlawful presence
The Supreme Court has agreed to take up United States v. Sineneng-Smith this term, a case that concerns a little-used provision of immigration law that forbids “encourag[ing] or induc[ing] an alien to … reside in the United States” when the encourager knows that person has no legal status.
In the case, Evelyn Sineneng-Smith told her undocumented clients they could stay in the United States under a program she knew had ended. The government convicted her for fraud. It then convicted her of violating a provision forbidding “encourag[ing] or induc[ing] an alien to … reside in the United States” when the encourager knows that person has no legal status.
The ruling was overturned in the Ninth Circuit, but it has the immigrant rights community and civil libertarians worried that the court—with its recent record of unprecedented deference to the president on immigration matters—could greenlight the Trump Justice Department to criminalize routine legal work and political speech. The administration has already threatened to use these laws against sanctuary city officials who refuse to cooperate with immigration enforcement.
“An advocate or lawyer now has to worry, given the government’s position in this case, that this language … may trigger criminal liability just for correctly advising a noncitizen,” said Manny Vargas, senior counsel for the nonprofit Immigrant Defense Project in New York City, in a Slate article.