In a bold and stunning 9-0 legal interpretation, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled on June 7 that the word “temporary” in Temporary Protected Status (TPS) actually means “temporary.” Groundbreaking stuff, we know.
In the facts of this case, Jose Santos Sanchez, a citizen of El Salvador, claims that the denial of his application to become a lawful permanent resident violated his Constitutional rights. Despite entering the country illegally in 1997, Sanchez claimed that he should be allowed to apply for permanent legal status under 8 U.S. Code § 1255, arguing that his TPS status constituted legal admission into the country.
This provision, codified under the Immigration and Nationality Act, notes that “an alien who was inspected and admitted or paroled into the United States” may be considered for adjustment of status if they meet all of the following criteria:
1. They apply for adjustment of status.
2. They are eligible to receive an immigrant visa and are admissible to the United States for permanent residency.
3. An immigrant visa is immediately available at the time the application is filed.
First of all, the court correctly noted that admission into the United States only includes “the lawful entry of the alien into the United States after inspection and authorization by an immigration officer.” Again, largely self-explanatory to anyone who actually bothered to read the statute in question.
The court also noted that TPS is simply a temporary deferral of deportation, and does not in any way constitute a lawful means of residency in the United States. “Section 1255 generally requires a lawful admission before a person can obtain LPR status,” the decision, written by Justice Elena Kagan, an Obama appointee, noted. “Sanchez was not lawfully admitted, and his TPS does not alter that fact. He therefore cannot become a permanent resident of this country.”
TPS was never intended to act as an avenue for the resettlement of illegal aliens in the United States. Nothing in the designation infers that a recipient has received lawful status in the country. Conversely, it is explicitly constructed as a deferral of removal for humanitarian purposes, along with the temporary issuance of work and travel authorization. Unfortunately, most presidential administrations rubber-stamp the continuance of these programs long after the humanitarian reason for the initial declaration has resolved. Because of that, many illegal aliens like Jose Santos Sanchez opt to plant roots in the United States with no intention of ever returning to their home country.
This ruling is a good first step in restoring TPS to its intended purpose. However, the next steps would require that the Biden-Harris administration consider ending TPS programs that are no longer necessary, or for Congress to clarify if and when the designation can be extended. But, since Congress can hardly do anything productive, and the current administration is feverishly dismantling all enforcement mechanisms for our immigration laws, neither of these options seem likely to occur.