The decision could impact tens of thousands of other immigrants with Temporary Protected Status.
The Supreme Court will hear an immigration case on Monday that could affect green card eligibility for tens of thousands of immigrants across the country.
Currently, around 400,000 people in the United States are recipients of the Temporary Protected Status program, which gives refuge to people from 11 different countries who are unable to remain in their home countries due to war or natural disaster. Immigrants from El Salvador comprise a majority of those with protected status, according to USA Today.
Among them are Jose Sanchez and Sonia Gonzalez, the married couple at the center of Monday's Supreme Court case, Sanchez v. Mayorkas.
The couple first entered the country without legal authorization in 1997. In 2001, after earthquakes rocked El Salvador, the married couple applied for and were granted temporary protected status.
Then, in 2014, Sanchez and Gonzalez applied for legal permanent residency, otherwise known as a green card. However, their applications were denied due to eligibility requirements stating that someone has been lawfully admitted into the country.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service contended that couple had entered the United States unlawfully, despite their TPS designations. Sanchez, who has a work visa, and Gonzalez, meanwhile, argued that they were lawfully admitted into the country when they applied for and were granted temporary protected status. The couple filed a lawsuit over the matter in 2015.
After going through several lower courts, which resulted in an array of contradictory decisions, the case landed before the Supreme Court, which will now consider the issue.
Experts say the court's decision could affect tens of thousands of others under the TPS umbrella, who are hoping to remain in the United States permanently.
"Many of these TPS holders have been here for years — some for as long as two decades," Mary Kenney, deputy director of the National Immigration Litigation Alliance, said in an email on Friday. "A favorable decision will permit them to gain a path to U.S. citizenship and thus be able to remain with their U.S. citizen spouses and children."
Kathy Brady, senior staff attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, said similarly that the decision could have a wide impact for immigrants across the country.
"These are people who are applying to legalize their status, and the federal law at issue gives them the right to do this through processing in the United States," she said in an email. "All of the affected people were approved for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) due to catastrophic events in their home country, and all of them also are eligible to apply for a green card, because they have an approved visa petition based on close U.S. citizen or permanent resident family, or on employer’s need for their special skills."
She added, "The question is whether, under the TPS statute, they can go through the legal procedure to apply for their green card here in the United States, or whether they must return to the home country. Just the few-days trip to go back to their country can trigger a 10-year bar on re-entering the United States, plus in many instances the return is not safe."
Maria Zavaleta, spokesperson for the National TPS Alliance, an organization advocating for immigrants with protected status, told USA Today, "We want to keep families together and something like this would just be another bump in the road for people to be able to continue to be with their families."
As the outlet noted, the couple's supporters argue that President Joe Biden and Democratic lawmakers' sweeping U.S. Citizenship Act allows for immigrants with temporary protected status to apply for legal permanent residency regardless of whether they lawfully entered the United States.
Critics maintain that if the El Salvadoran couple is ultimately granted legal permanent residency, it defeats the purpose of the Temporary Protected Status program, which they argue is not supposed to be permanent.
However, as Paul Wickham Schmidt, a law professor at Georgetown University, told the publication, "Look, this is a no brainer."
"Why waste time on it? The [Biden] administration has indicated they'd like to regularize many [TPS beneficiaries] and ... instead they're defending a gimmick cooked up by Stephen Miller," he added, referring to Donald Trump's former White House adviser, the architect of Trump's cruelest and most draconian immigration policies.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.