Combating illegal immigration has been a core plank in the Trump administration’s platform — and rightly so. A nation that can’t — or won’t — control its own borders will eventually cease to exist.
But the pursuit of a worthy goal does not give federal authorities the power to circumvent the U.S. Constitution.
Last week, Greyhound finally stopped caving to demands that it step aside as government agents conduct “transportation checks” on buses traveling within 100 miles of a U.S. border. The company for years has allowed Border Patrol officers to board its vehicles and question passengers about their immigration status.
Government officials argue that immigration authorities have wide latitude to carry out such sweeps. They cite a federal statute which states that the Border Patrol may conduct warrantless searches for illegal aliens of “any vessel within the territorial waters of the United States and any railway, car, aircraft, conveyance or vehicle … within a reasonable distance from any external boundary.”
One problem: The Fourth Amendment demands that warrants be issued for such checks only upon probable cause, while also prohibiting “unreasonable searches and seizures.” While proponents of the practice may argue that those in the country illegally do not enjoy such protections, how many U.S. citizens have been caught up in Border Patrol bus raids? Besides, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1973, “no act of Congress can authorize a violation of the Constitution.”
The Border Patrol was overreaching, and it’s about time Greyhound stopped being complicit in these constitutional violations.
Meanwhile, the high court on Wednesday heard a California case involving a woman who fraudulently collected millions under the guise of advising Filipino home health care workers on immigration matters. Among the charges Evelyn Sineneng-Smith faced was illegally “encouraging or inducing an alien” to stay in the United States.
But as the defendant’s attorneys pointed out during oral arguments, the specific statute in question is so broad as to encompass a wide swath of constitutionally protected speech. The justices — both liberal and conservative — seemed to agree, implying that charities, hospitals and relatives could all be prosecuted under the law.
In addition, Justice Neil Gorsuch noted that, while it is only a civil offense to be in the country illegally, the government argues that Sineneng-Smith’s conduct was criminal. We “don’t allow punishment for speech greater than the underlying conduct itself,” he said. “That would seem to be a basic First Amendment value.”
Once again, the government overreached in pursuit of a legitimate end. The statute has serious free speech issues, and the Supreme Court should strike it down.