It was not unexpected but still represented a punch in the stomach to many immigrants who fled their home countries for humanitarian reasons and illegally entered the U.S. On June 7, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that people who entered the country illegally and have Temporary Protected Status (TPS) cannot apply for permanent residency.
TPS status applies to people hailing from countries devastated by war, violence or natural disaster. They may be victims of torture, ethnic cleansing and civil war, or seen their cities and villages destroyed in an earthquake or hurricane. TPS status protects them from deportation and allows them to work here. The U.S. is home to an estimated 400,000 people with TPS designation. They hail from 12 countries with the vast majority coming from El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti.
Couple sought permanent residency
The Supreme Court case centered on an El Salvador couple who entered the U.S. illegally in the late 1990s. By 2001, they had applied for and received TPS designation after a series of earthquakes in their home country. By 2014, the couple sought to adjust their status and become permanent residents by applying for green cards. However, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services denied their applications, noting that they illegally entered the country, thus never being formally admitted.
The case centered on two issues of immigration law:
- Should the government consider people with TPS designations as having maintained lawful status?
- Must a TPS-designated individual who seeks a status change have entered the country legally?
In writing the court’s opinion, Justice Elena Kagan noted that federal law prevents people with TPS designations who entered illegally from obtaining green cards. The high court’s decision will not affect immigrants with TPS designations who legally entered the country but overstayed their visas. This latter group may seek permanent residency.