On June 7, 2021, the United States Supreme Court settled a circuit split among the U.S. Courts of Appeals involving the eligibility of immigrants in the United States under Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to adjust their status to that of a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR). The Courts of Appeals for the 3rd, 5th, and 11th Circuits have held that TPS was not a legitimate avenue for a person to gain LPR status, while the Courts of Appeals for the 6th, 8th, and 9th Circuits have held the opposite. In Sanchez v. Mayorkas (Case), the Supreme Court, in a 9–0 decision, agreed with the 3rd Circuit, holding that TPS does not satisfy the eligibility requirements required for an adjustment to LPR.
The underlying issue in the case arose from 8 U.S.C. § 1255, which provides the basis for an individual to gain LPR, and 8 U.S.C. § 1254, which provides a basis for TPS. In making its decision, the Supreme Court relied on the plain language of § 1255, the requirement that an immigrant applying for LPR has met the admission requirements under 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(13)(A), and the specific classes of immigrant eligible for LPR under 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15). § 1254 governs TPS, providing certain benefits to those eligible for this kind of protection. Relevant to this case was § 1254(f)(4), which states that a TPS recipient has lawful status as a nonimmigrant in the United States. However, this determination of lawful status as a nonimmigrant does not satisfy the requirement in § 1255 requiring a formal admission into the United States—referring to an inspection process by an immigration officer—that is further defined in § 1101(A)(13). Along with the requirements in § 1101(A)(13), § 1101(A)(15) provides specific exceptions for different classes of nonimmigrants who would otherwise be exempt from the admission requirements—TPS is not one of the exceptions.
The facts of the case were relatively straightforward: the petitioner arrived in the United States in 1997, and was granted TPS in 2001 when his home country (El Salvador) became designated as an eligible country under the program. In 2014, the petitioner applied for an adjustment to LPR status, and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) denied his application because he had not been lawfully admitted under § 1255. (Case at 3.)
Decision and Holding
The Supreme Court relied upon the plain language of the statutes in reaching their decision. In other words, when the language of the statute is clear, a court will defer to the statutory language without further analysis. If there had been inconsistencies or conflicts in the statute, the court would have relied on different rules when making its decision. The Supreme Court explained that § 1255 clearly requires an individual to have entered the country “lawfully” under § 1101. (Case at 4–5.) The court then explained how § 1254’s TPS designation applies to the adjustment process to become a LPR under § 1255. Specifically, the court stated that TPS recipients satisfy the status requirement of § 1255, but they do not satisfy the “legal-entry requirement” or lawful admission requirement of § 1255. (Case at 5.)
The Supreme Court relied on two hypotheticals to explain the significance of a TPS recipient’s lawful status as an immigrant as it applies to an adjustment to LPR. First, the court explained that an individual’s TPS under § 1255 certainly provides an immigrant with the necessary nonimmigrant status to apply for LPR (see § 1254(a)(f)(4)). However, the lawful admission requirement under § 1255 is an independent requirement that must also be satisfied in some way. (Case at 5.) The court provided two examples, explaining that an individual could have been lawfully admitted on a student visa and remained past the visa’s expiration, thereby falling out of lawful status. (Case at 5–6.) The court then explained that conversely, an individual could be in lawful status without meeting the lawful admission requirement, as in the case of someone who has entered unlawfully but received asylum. (Case at 6.) This second example is similar to the situation the petitioner is in, where he is able to remain in the United States but has not been inspected; specifically, the court stated that “a grant of TPS does not eliminate the disqualifying effect on an unlawful entry.” (Case at 6.)
The court noted the specific exceptions under § 1255 that allow for adjustment to LPR without meeting the admission requirements. Under one of them, individuals who were victims of serious crimes in the United States may be eligible for LPR status without lawful admission. (Case at 7–8.) The court highlighted the clarity of this exception in support of its decision in this case. (Case at 8–9.)
The court observed that Congress is currently debating an amendment to § 1254 that would provide a TPS recipient the necessary admission status to apply for adjustment to LPR, but without that amendment, the statute makes clear that a TPS recipient is not eligible. (Case at 8–9.) Finally, the court provided a brief, unanimous holding: TPS does not meet the admission standard required to become a permanent resident of the United States. (Case at 9.)