This week the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that immigrants with Temporary Protected Status can be blocked from applying for a green cards if they entered the United States illegally. The court ruling came in response to the case of Jose and Sonia Gonzales of New Jersey who unlawfully entered the U.S. in 1997 and 1998, preceding earthquakes in their home country of El Salvador.

The couple applied for and was granted Temporary Protect Status, a humanitarian protection which prevents individuals from countries plagued by war or environmental disaster from being deported. When the couple attempted to file for an adjustment of status (to Lawful Permanent Residents) in 2014, however, the USCIS rejected their application because they had entered the United States unlawfully and were never “formally admitted”. The Gonzales’ case is two-fold because some argue that the Temporary Protected Status they were granted in 2001 should inherently be viewed as “maintaining lawful status” while the other side argues in order for someone to be eligible to receive a green card, they must have been admitted to the U.S. lawfully and that there is a clear distinction between being granted status versus admission to the country.

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

Michael R. Huston, assistant to the U.S. solicitor general said that the government had “reasonably determined that Congress did not establish Temporary Protected Status as a special pathway to permanent residents for non-citizens who are already barred from that privilege because of pre-TPS conduct.”

To date there are approximately 400,000 foreign nationals with Temporary Protected Status in the United States. A fraction of those have been able to adjust their status but the majority would be ineligible to apply for green card since this ruling maintains that Temporary Protected Status does not constitute a “lawful admission” into the United States. This ruling also underpins the hurdles hundred of thousands of Dreamers will come up against unless some sort of path to lawful permanent status is passed by Congress.

It is yet to be seen how the Biden administration will handle immigration policy in the coming months amid growing pressure on border security, immigration court backlogs and migrant surges. We will keep you posted with the latest immigration developments as they become available!