Supreme Court Rules Illegal Immigrants With TPS Status Ineligible for Green Card

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The U.S. Supreme Court asserted that having a TPS status does not make one eligible for permanent residency in America.
The U.S. Supreme Court asserted that having a TPS status does not make one eligible for permanent residency in America. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that illegal immigrants who enter the United States under the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program are not entitled to apply for permanent residency. The court delivered the judgment just months after the Democrat-led U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to create a pathway towards citizenship for TPS immigrants.

According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), TPS status is given to nations that people cannot safely return home to. Unsafe conditions can include natural disasters, civil unrest, and violence. Once accepted into the TPS program, people are allowed to live and work in America for a limited period of time. 

Currently, the 12 countries that have been granted TPS status are Venezuela, South Sudan, El Salvador, Burma, Haiti, Nepal, Honduras, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, and Nicaragua. USCIS states, “TPS is a temporary benefit that does not lead to lawful permanent resident status or give any other immigration status.”

Sanchez vs Mayorkas

The Supreme Court passed judgment as part of the Sanchez v. Mayorkas lawsuit. The petitioners of the case, Jose Santos Sanchez and Sonia Gonzalez, are a married couple with four kids, one of whom was born in the United States. They came from El Salvador and currently reside in New Jersey. Sanchez entered the U.S. illegally in 1997 and received TPS status four years later in 2001.

In 2014, the USCIS turned down Sanchez’s application for a green card because he did not enter the country legally. While a U.S. District Court ruled in his favor when he challenged the decision in 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit subsequently reversed the decision, stating that being granted with TPS “does not constitute an ‘admission’ into the United States.” The case eventually went to the Supreme Court.

In her 11-page opinion on Sanchez vs Mayorkas, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan said that the TPS permit only allowed Sanchez to remain in the country with a “nonimmigrant status,” and that he was ineligible to become a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR). “Because a grant of TPS does not come with a ticket of admission, it does not eliminate the disqualifying effect of an unlawful entry,” the opinion stated.

U.S. law “generally requires a lawful admission before a person can obtain LPR status. Sanchez was not lawfully admitted, and his TPS does not alter that fact. He therefore cannot become a permanent resident of this country,” she wrote. The Supreme Court Justices unanimously rejected Sanchez’s petition.

The court decision will not affect immigrants with TPS status who come to the U.S. legally and overstay their visas. Since their entry was legal, they are eligible to seek permanent residency. Several Democrats had supported Sanchez’s case at the Supreme Court, including Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts, Richard Blumenthal from Connecticut, Mazi Hirono from Hawaii, and Adriana Espaillat from New York.

Dale L Wilcox, executive director and general counsel of Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), praised the court for declining to “water down the law.” The court “maintained the standard that illegal entry into our country will not be tolerated, much less rewarded… We are seeing right now what happens when deliberate non-enforcement sends the opposite message: an engineered surge, crisis, and chaos, at the border,” Wilcox said in a statement.

American Dream and Promise Act

In March, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Dream and Promise Act of 2021 with a 228 to 197 vote. All Democrats and nine Republicans voted in favor of the bill. If passed in the Senate and enacted into law, hundreds and thousands of people with TPS status will have an opportunity to gain permanent residency in the U.S.

However, to become eligible for LPR, the TPS holders must have lived continuously in America for a period of three years prior to the bill’s enactment, and prove that they either had or were eligible for TPS on Sep. 17, 2017. In addition, immigrants would need to apply for LPR within three years of the bill’s enactment. People who were deported from the U.S. after Sep. 17, 2017, will also be eligible to apply for LPR.

According to a report published by the Pew Research Center on March 19, 2021, more than 600,000 people in America have TPS status. The three top countries from which people came were El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti, with 202,630, 62,196, and 41,962 immigrants, respectively.

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