WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court unanimously ruled Monday that immigrants who are temporarily allowed to stay in the United States on humanitarian grounds cannot apply for green cards if they have illegally entered the country.
The case of Sanchez v. Mayorkas, nos. 20-315, could affect tens of thousands of immigrants. It was brought by Jose Sanchez and Sonia Gonzalez, natives of El Salvador who illegally entered the United States in the late 1990s.
In 2001, after the earthquake devastated El Salvador, the United States made nationals of that country eligible for the “Temporary Protection Status” program. The program protects immigrants from parts of the world exposed to armed conflict and natural disasters from deportation and enables them to work in the United States.
Mr. Sanchez and Ms. Gonzalez, a married couple, received protection under the program. In 2014, they applied for legal permanent residence, commonly known as a green card. After their application was denied, they sued.
The Philadelphia Third District Court of Appeals ruled against them, saying they were ineligible under part of immigration law that requires applicants to be “inspected and admitted” to the United States.
The Supreme Court: Upcoming Cases
- A great month. June is the peak season for Supreme Court rulings. It is the last month of the court’s annual tenure, and judges tend to overturn their key decisions for the end of the term.
- 4 big cases. The court will determine the fate of Obamacare and a case where numerous electoral rule laws could be enacted in the years ahead. It also takes a case involving religion and gay rights, and one about whether students can be disciplined for what they say on social media (here’s an audio report on the subject; and here is the public opinion on some of the big cases).
- What to look out for. The approaches taken by Amy Coney Barrett, the newest Justice, and Brett Kavanaugh, the second newest. They will be crucial because the three liberal judges now need at least two of the six conservatives to form a majority. Before the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the liberals only needed one conservative.
- Looking ahead. Next year’s term, which will begin this fall, will include abortion, guns and possibly positive action cases, and could be the most significant term to date under Chief Justice John Roberts.
The temporary protection status, wrote judge Thomas M. Hardiman for the unanimous jury of three judges, “does not constitute an admission”.
“As the name suggests,” he wrote, “this protection is only temporary.”
Judge Elena Kagan, who wrote for the Supreme Court on Monday, agreed, saying that two parts of immigration laws work in different ways. A part enables some people who have legally entered the country to apply for green cards.
This first part “imposes a double eligibility requirement,” she wrote. It states that applicants for green cards must have been “inspected and approved or parole” to the United States. And it adds that people who have worked in the United States without a permit, as Mr Sanchez did before he was granted temporary protection status, are only eligible if their presence in the United States is “under a lawful permit” took place.
The other relevant part of the immigration laws, wrote Judge Kagan, allows immigrants, whether or not they legally entered the country, to apply for temporary protection status or TPS
“The government can nominate a country to the program if it is hit by particularly dire or dangerous conditions, such as natural disasters or armed conflict,” she wrote. “Citizens of the country who are already in the United States can then receive TPS. This status protects them from deportation and entitles them to work here as long as the TPS designation exists. “
The two tracks can sometimes merge, Justice Kagan wrote, once the recipient of temporary protection status has lawfully entered the country. However, she added that people who entered without a permit will not be eligible for green cards thanks to the temporary protection status.
“Legal status and admission are, as the court below recognized,” she wrote, “different concepts in immigration law: the definition of one does not necessarily justify the other.”
“On the one hand, a foreigner can be admitted, but not with legal status – think of someone who legally entered the United States on a student visa but stayed in the country long after graduation,” wrote Judge Kagan. “On the other hand, a foreigner can have legal status but cannot be admitted – think of someone who entered illegally but was then granted asylum. The latter is the situation Sanchez finds himself in, except that he has been given another legal status. “
“Because the issue of TPS is not associated with an admission ticket,” she wrote, “this does not remove the disqualifying effect of illegal entry.”