WASHINGTON – A unanimous Supreme Court curbed a 30-year-old immigration program for foreign nationals whose countries are ravaged by war or natural disaster, ruling its temporary protection from deportation doesn’t guarantee a more permanent stay.
Some 400,000 people, most from El Salvador, live in the U.S. with Temporary Protected Status, which permits them to remain as long as the government determines they cannot safely return. At issue in the case was whether those immigrants could apply for lawful permanent residency, or green cards, if they entered the United States illegally.
Federal law requires immigrants seeking green cards to have been “inspected and admitted or paroled into the United States.” A New Jersey couple from El Salvador who lived in the U.S. for two decades argued they met that mandate when they become TPS recipients. Both the Trump and Biden administrations disagreed.
The court also found the argument unpersuasive.
The TPS beneficiary in the case “was not lawfully admitted, and his TPS does not alter that fact,” Associate Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the court. “He therefore cannot become a permanent resident of this country.”
During arguments in April, the court’s conservative majority appeared skeptical of the immigrants’ claim. Critics of TPS say the program is intended to provide temporary relief, not permanent residence.
Earlier: Supreme Court to debate immigration case as Biden wrestles with border crisis
Earlier: Supreme Court pushes back on allowing immigrants to apply for green cards
“We need to be careful about tinkering with the immigration statutes as written, particularly when Congress has such a primary role here,” Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh told a lawyer for the two immigrants in April. “You have an uphill climb.”
Immigration activists rally outside the Supreme Court on April 23, 2019. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite, AP)
Others argue that successive administrations have already allowed many TPS beneficiaries to stay in the country for decades, permitting them to build roots, businesses and families in the United States. For instance, President George W. Bush granted TPS status to El Salvador in 2001 following two earthquakes and the status has been extended ever since.
Immigrant advocates note the eligibility requirements of program mean it’s not open-ended: To be eligible for TPS, an immigrant must prove they have been in the United States since the designation was made. The Biden administration designated two new countries in March – Venezuela and Myanmar – bringing the number of countries to 12.
The decision comes months after the Supreme Court ruled against an immigrant in another case who lived in the country illegally for 25 years and who asserted he wrongfully faced deportation for using a false Social Security card.
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