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Supreme Court rules illegal immigrants in US can’t get green cards via temporary protected status

The Supreme Court. (Joe Sohm/Dreamstime/TNS)
June 07, 2021

The Supreme Court unanimously held Monday that immigrants in the United States who are temporarily protected from deportation are not eligible for a green card if they entered the country illegally.

“…immigration laws provides a way for a “nonimmigrant”—a foreign national lawfully present in this country on a designated, temporary basis—to obtain an “[a]djustment of status” making him [a lawful permanent resident (LPR)],” Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the unanimous court, noting that eligibility depends on “admission” into the U.S. “And an “admission” is defined as ‘the lawful entry of the alien into the United States after inspection and authorization by an immigration officer.’”

The case, Sanchez v. Mayorkas, involved Jose Sanchez and Sonia Gonzales, a couple who moved to the United States illegally over 20 years ago.

The pair applied for and were granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS), blocking them from deportation, after several earthquakes hit El Salvador in 2001. In 2014, the couple attempted to become lawful permanent residents and applied for a green card, but were denied by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services because they had entered the country illegally and were never formally admitted to the U.S.

The couple’s attorney argued in court that TPS status inherently grants admission into the country. Michael R. Huston, assistant to the US solicitor general, argued that there is a difference between TPS and formal admission.

Huston argued that Congress did not “establish TPS as a special pathway to permanent residents for non-citizens who are already barred from that privilege because of pre-TPS conduct.”

According to CNN, there are currently around 400,000 people under TPS in the United States. The news outlet reported that 85,000 have been able to adjust their status to permanent residencies, but those who entered the U.S. illegally are not eligible for the change.

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, TPS is granted “due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely, or in certain circumstances, where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately.”

The conditions include ongoing armed conflict, environmental disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes or epidemics, and “other extraordinary and temporary conditions.”

Individuals under TPS are not removable from the U.S., can obtain employment authorization documents, and could be granted travel authorization.

“TPS is a temporary benefit that does not lead to lawful permanent resident status or give any other immigration status,” the department’s website states, adding that the status does not prevent individuals from applying for nonimmigrant status, filing for an adjustment of status based on an immigration petition, or applying for other immigration benefits or protections.