No green cards for immigrants with temporary status, high court rules. What does it mean?

·4 min read

Nearly 25 years ago, Gregorio Cruz fled his hometown in southern Honduras fearful for his life.

The Central American country was politically unstable. Poverty had turned neighbors against one another, a situation from which Cruz says Honduras is still reeling. He has lived in Durham since 2003 and has continuously worked for immigrants’ rights in the Triangle area.

“I am part of this country now,” Cruz said in an interview. “I do not want to go back.”

Cruz is one of more than 6,000 people who, under the Clinton administration, received temporary relief to stay in the United States. Unlike most of them, he did have his status adjusted last year.

Temporary Protected Status (TPS) lets immigrants from countries devastated by ongoing war or national disasters remain in the United States for a specific period of time. Currently Burma, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen, and most recently, Venezuela, are the only countries designated for TPS.

About 4%, or 12,035 of the roughly 320,000 TPS holders across the United States live in North Carolina, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Under U.S. immigration law, Temporary Protected Status is not a legal form of entry into the country. And while TPS holders can continue living in the United States for now, in a unanimous vote Monday, the Supreme Court affirmed they cannot apply for a green card that would give them permanent legal residency.

Here is what the decision means.

Did the Supreme Court ruling change TPS?

The short answer is, no.

In a phone interview, Yesenia Polanco, lead attorney at Polanco Law in Durham, said the high court’s decision does not change anything for North Carolina’s TPS holders because their classification already “is not recognized as a legal form of admission for adjustment of status.”

“Our local USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) office requires TPS holders to have entered on advance parole or another type of legal admission, like a tourist visa or another type of visa, even if it’s expired,” she said.

Basically, people with TPS, under current immigration laws, are not considered to have been given admission into the United States because they were not inspected and admitted by an immigration officer at the border.

Although Monday’s ruling does not change anything, it was still a setback for this group of immigrants.

“A favorable decision would have made a green card process easier for TPS holders,” Polanco said.

Why did the court take up temporary status?

The original case, Sanchez v. Mayorkas, involves a Salvadoran couple who have been living in the United States since the 1990s, the Associated Press reported. It asked whether people who came to the United States illegally and received humanitarian status, like TPS, were legally admitted under immigration law.

This case went to the Supreme Court for review after two U.S. circuit courts issued different rulings on the matter, Polanco said.

“This is just a legal issue that required clarification,” she said.

How could TPS holders obtain legal status?

The ruling can be interpreted as the Supreme Court calling on Congress to make TPS an eligible form of admission through the American Dream and Promise Act of 2021, Polanco said.

“The way that it is written right now, it does not,” she said.

In Justice Elena Kagan’s opinion, she wrote, “Congress, of course, could have gone further, by deeming TPS recipients to have not only nonimmigrant status but also a lawful admission. Legislation pending in Congress would do just that.”

Juan Miranda, an organizer for immigrant rights group SiembraNC, said in a phone interview that organizers like him have been calling on Congress to do so for many years.

“If there is someone who is fleeing their country desperately, (they are) not making an appointment to start a legal process to get here (through) the proper channels,” he said. “It is the way they have at their disposal in a moment of crisis.

“We are all calling on Congress to take action to actually do a system-wide reform that allows for (their) legalization,” Miranda said.

The Raleigh-Durham chapter of the National TPS Alliance plans to hold a vigil outside Sen. Thom Tillis’ office, 9300 Harris Cornes Parkway in Charlotte, at 10 a.m. Thursday to call on the Biden Administration and Congress for a pathway to permanent legal residency for TPS holders.

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