Supreme Court Rules Against Green Cards For Noncitizens Granted Temporary Protected Status

On Monday, in a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled in Sanchez v. Mayorkas that noncitizens, who have been granted temporary humanitarian relief from deportation, cannot use the process known as “adjustment of status” to obtain lawful permanent residency in the United States without leaving the country. Justice Elena Kagan wrote the opinion for the court.

In her opinion, Kagan said the decision was “a straightforward application” of U.S. law, which generally requires an immigrant to have been lawfully admitted to the U.S. to be eligible for a green card.

The court ruled that adjustment of status is reserved for those who were inspected at the border and admitted to the United States by an immigration officer. The decision disqualifies the majority of people who have been granted Temporary Protected Status.

“The TPS program gives foreign nationals nonimmigrant status, but it does not admit them,” wrote Kagan. “So the conferral of TPS does not make an unlawful entrant (like Sanchez) eligible.”

More than 400,000 people currently live in the U.S. under TPS from a dozen countries including El Salvador, Haiti, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, according to The Hill.

In the case at issue, Jose Sanchez and Sonia Gonzalez came to the United States from El Salvador without authorization in the 1990s. The U.S. government granted them temporary protection in 2001 when the United States designated El Salvador as part of the TPS program.

The ruling bars Jose Santos Sanchez and his wife from becoming permanent residents through his employer who had filed an immigration-visa petition for Sanchez as a skilled worker. Immigration officials approved this petition, authorizing Sanchez to be admitted to the United States as a lawful permanent resident. They simultaneously approved Gonzalez, his wife, for admission as a lawful permanent resident.

The government then denied the couple’s application to use the adjustment-of-status process in order to transition from temporary to permanent residency without leaving the United States. Immigration officials ruled that the couple’s original unauthorized entry disqualified them from adjustment of status based on the text of Immigration and Nationality Act Section 1255(a), which restricts the in-country adjustment-of-status process to noncitizens who were “inspected and admitted or paroled into the United States.”