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The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that immigrants who entered the country unlawfully and were granted a temporary stay for humanitarian reasons do not become eligible to seek permanent residency.
As many as 400,000 immigrants have been granted temporary protected status in the U.S., which means they are allowed to stay because of unsafe conditions or crises in their native countries.
Many of them would like lawful permanent resident status, usually referred to as a green card. But lower courts divided over whether those who entered the country illegally meet a requirement of the law that says they must have been “inspected and admitted or paroled into the United States.”
Jose Santos Sanchez, who entered the country unlawfully in 1997, contended that being granted temporary protected status in 2001 satisfied that requirement for him.
But Justice Elena Kagan, writing for her unified colleagues, said the law was clear it did not.
“Sanchez was not lawfully admitted, and his TPS does not alter that fact,” she wrote. “He therefore cannot become a permanent resident of this country.”
At oral argument in the case, conservative justices said a lawyer for the Justice Department seemed reluctant in opposing the suit brought by Sanchez and his wife, Sonia Gonzalez. The case was inherited from the Trump administration, and separated the Biden administration from its usual allies calling for leniency in immigration matters.
The couple is somewhat typical of those who seek permanent status. They are natives of El Salvador who have lived as a married couple in New Jersey for more than 20 years. They have four sons, the youngest of whom was born in the United States.
Sanchez and Gonzalez entered the country separately in 1997 and 1998. They applied for and received temporary protected status in 2001 because of conditions in El Salvador. It is among 12 nations on a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services list for TPS eligibility.
Sanchez has worked for Viking Yachts since he has been in the United States, and his company was enthusiastic about him receiving a green card. Sanchez then applied on behalf of his wife.
But U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services denied them the change in status because they had not been “admitted” to the country. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit agreed.
Lawyers for Sanchez argued that was a constrained reading of the law. But Kagan said it was not up to the court to decide that what the law does “is not enough.”
She noted that it does not mean that everyone with temporary protected status is barred from seeking permanent lawful status. For instance, she wrote, a foreign national who entered the country legally on a tourist visa, but stayed on for several months after the visa’s expiration, would meet the requirement that he entered the country lawfully.
And Congress can change the law to help those like Sanchez, she said: “Legislation pending in Congress would do just that.”
The case is Sanchez v. Mayorkas.