The Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision on a case (Mayorkas v Sanchez) determining if holding Temporary Protected Status (TPS) would be qualified as a “lawful admission”, a requirement needed for applicants who want to obtain a green card and get lawful permanent residency in the nation. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled against the plaintiff, effectively preventing TPS holders to solely use their TPS as proof of lawful admission when asking for a Green Card.
The case in question was referring to the immigration status of Jose Sanchez and his wife Sonia Gonzales, a Salvadorian couple who entered the United States illegally in the 1990s. However, the United States designated El Salvador as a TPS nation in 2001 due to a series of earthquakes that rocked the nation that year, allowing hundreds of thousands of Salvadorians (including Mr Sanchez and his wife) to work and live in the United States without fear of deportation until the US terminated the TPS program.
Sanchez had applied for a change of his immigration status through a sponsorship by his company, which was initially approved by immigration officials. However, the government sued the decision made by the officers and said that since Sanchez entered illegally to the United States, he was effectively prevented from asking for an adjustment of status without leaving the U.S first.
Sanchez countered the government’s argument saying that the granting of TPS would be equivalent to a lawful admission since they would have been vetted by immigration officers when they were evaluating the application. Sanchez argued that a section within the law establishing the TPS program justifies his argument, while the government said rejected that interpretation and argued that Sanchez had not been admitted to the U.S legally.
The initial lower court ruled for Sanchez and his wife, but the decision was then reversed by the Appeal courts, leaving the final decision on the fate of Sanchez, his wife, and thousands of recipients in a similar situation at the hands of the nine justices of the Supreme Court.
What does this all mean?
The court handed down a blistering rebuke to Sanchez’s arguments, with all nine justices dismissing his case. Justice Elena Kagan, who is considered to be on the “liberal” side of the court, wrote the Court’s opinion in the case saying that while the TPS program gave nonimmigrant status to foreigners, that cannot be claimed as a lawful admission. She said that “TPS does not make an unlawful entrant (like Sanchez) eligible” for an adjustment to Permanent Residence status.
In a nutshell, the Court simply reaffirmed the earlier decision made by the appeal court, setting the precedent that while TPS does provide applicants with a nonimmigrant status while the program is held, it does not make it synonymous to legal entry to the United States.
According to the National Immigration Forum, there are currently 251,567 Salvadorians living in the United States with a TPS status, making it the single largest bloc of nationals with TPS permits, although this number will probably be surpassed by the more than 300,000 Venezuelans who are eligible for temporary protection.
The South American country was the latest nation granted a TPS status due to the ongoing political and humanitarian crisis there, the program allows hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans eligible to live and work in the United States for a renewable period of 18 months.
Currently, besides El Salvador and Venezuela, there are 10 other countries that the U.S government has designed with TPS status: Honduras, Haiti, Nepal, Syria, Nicaragua, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, South Sudan, and Myanmar.
The program itself has been under some legal controversies over the last few years, as there were some long legal battles after the Trump administration decided to not extend TPS status for many of the countries in the previous list, including El Salvador. The last decision of the courts, in September 2020, ended the controversy and allowed the administration to end the programs, giving them the ability to expel Salvadorian TPS recipients beginning November this year.
Although the latest ruling by the Court effectively sets a judicial precedent preventing the use of TPS as proof of legal admission to the United States, the decision should not create a big hindrance for TPS recipients who are applying for Permanent Residence and were legally admitted into the United States.
In her opinion, Kagan said that, for example, tourists who have overstayed their visa but also had TPS would be able to ask for an adjustment of status for Permanent Residency as their initial entry to the U.S would have been deemed as a lawful admission.