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Supreme Court says protected citizens who entered the United States illegally cannot receive green cards



WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court said Monday that non-citizens who entered the United States illegally cannot obtain permanent residence, even if the government has allowed them to remain under temporary protection.

The unanimous opinion, written by Judge Elena Kagan, said that the current immigration law only allows those who are legally accepted in the United States to apply for permanent residence.

Temporary protection status or TPS postpones the deportation of non-citizens when conditions in their home countries make return too dangerous.

The court returned the matter to Congress, noting that pending legislation would explicitly authorize TPS recipients who entered illegally to seek green cards; The US Dreams and Promises Act, passed by Parliament in March with the support of all Democrats and a handful of Republicans, now awaits action in the Senate.

So far, people like Jose Santos Sanchez, a Salvadoran who came to the United States illegally in the 1

990s, are out of luck. In 2001, the George W. Bush administration granted a protected status to Salvadorans, then in the United States, after El Salvador was hit by a series of devastating earthquakes and this status was repeatedly renewed.

In 2014, when Mr. Sanchez applied for a green card, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services denied him because he had entered the country illegally. Federal law allows TPS recipients to seek permanent residence, but only if they have been accepted “after inspection and permission by an immigration officer.”

Mr. Sanchez filed a lawsuit to overturn the decision to deny him a green card and imposed himself before a federal district judge. The judge found that the language elsewhere in the law, which said that TPS recipients would be “considered” legal non-immigrant statuses “for the purposes of the green card, meant that Mr Sanchez could apply for permanent residence.

However, a federal appeals court in Philadelphia agreed with the government, and Judge Kagan said he had correctly applied the stricter interpretation.

“On the one hand, a foreigner can be admitted, but not in legal status – think of someone who entered the United States legally on a student visa but stayed in the country long after graduation,” she wrote. “On the other hand, a foreign national may have legal status but not be allowed – think of someone who entered the country illegally but then received asylum.”

Mr. Sanchez fell into the second category. “Sanchez is not legally accepted and his TPS does not change that. Therefore, he cannot become a permanent resident of this country, “Judge Kagan wrote.

Currently, about 400,000 people from a dozen countries, including Haiti, Nepal and Yemen, have temporary protection status, which, despite its name, could last for decades if the interior minister renews the definition. The appointment of TPS allows recipients to work legally in the United States, but they may eventually be sent for deportation if the government refuses to renew the name.

In 2016, the Obama administration allowed the expiration of protected status for citizens of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone after determining that conditions had stabilized after the Ebola outbreak was contained.

The Trump administration tried to end its protected status for El Salvador and several other countries, but those efforts stalled in court before the Biden administration, promising a more generous immigration policy, took office in January.

So far this year, Homeland Security Minister Alejandro Majorcas has granted temporary protection status to Venezuelan and Myanmar citizens present in the United States, citing the volatile political situation in both countries. Venezuela’s definition, according to the administration’s calculations, could offer relief from the deportation of up to 320,000 people.

Mr Mayorkas also made about 100,000 illegally present Haitians recruited for TPS as part of the extension of that country’s designation, citing growing security concerns there.

Write to Jess Bravin at jess.bravin+1@wsj.com

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