Immigration and Citizenship

Sanchez v. Mayorkas

In Sanchez v. Mayorkas, the Supreme Court held that the Immigration and Nationality Act does not permit individuals who have received Temporary Protected Status to adjust to lawful-permanent-resident status if they were not lawfully inspected and admitted when they first arrived in the United States.

Case Summary

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) allows the federal government to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to foreign nationals residing in the United States if it determines that those individuals came from countries to which they cannot safely return and satisfy several other criteria.  Those seeking TPS must undergo a rigorous application and review process.  If granted, TPS shields recipients from removal and authorizes them to work in the United States.

Under Section 1254a(f)(4) of the INA, TPS recipients are “considered as being in, and maintaining, lawful status as a nonimmigrant . . . for purposes of adjustment of status under section 1255.”  Section 1255, in turn, states that “[t]he status of an alien who was inspected and admitted . . . into the United States . . . may be adjusted . . . to that of an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence,” provided certain criteria are satisfied.

The petitioners in this case, a married couple from El Salvador, initially entered the United States without lawful admission or inspection.  They later applied for and were granted TPS.  When they attempted to adjust their status to that of lawful permanent residents, however, the government denied their request on the ground that they had not been “inspected and admitted” as Section 1255 requires for such a status adjustment.  They sued, and although the federal district court ruled in their favor, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that they were categorically ineligible for such an adjustment because they had not been “admitted” under Section 1255.  They asked the Supreme Court to hear the case, and the Court agreed to do so.

CAC filed an amici curiae brief on behalf of Members of Congress in support of the petitioners.  First, our brief argued that the plain language of the INA permits eligible TPS recipients to adjust their status to that of lawful permanent residents, regardless of whether they were inspected and admitted when they first entered the United States.  This is because TPS recipients were necessarily “inspected and admitted” into the United States, as required by Section 1255, by virtue of undergoing the rigorous vetting process required to receive TPS.  Further, because Section 1254a(f)(4) stipulates that TPS recipients are “considered as being in, and maintaining, lawful status as a nonimmigrant . . . for purposes of adjustment of status under section 1255,” we argued that they should also be considered “admitted,” as “nonimmigrants” have typically been granted “admission to the United States” under the INA.

Second, our brief argued that this plain-text reading of the INA is consistent with Congress’s plan in passing the statute and is underscored by the fact that the alternative interpretation would produce absurd results.  Under the Department of Justice’s interpretation, individuals like the petitioners in this case, who were thoroughly vetted by the U.S. government and granted lawful nonimmigrant status as TPS recipients for purposes of adjusting their status, would have to leave the country and return to their country of origin, or to another country entirely, before returning to the United States for inspection and admission to be eligible to adjust to lawful-permanent-resident status.  The brief argued that that outcome could not be squared with Congress’s plan in passing the INA, which was to protect certain individuals from having to leave the United States when it would be unsafe to do so.

In June 2021, the Supreme Court held that the conferral of TPS does not make an individual eligible for lawful permanent resident status if that individual did not “lawfully” enter the country.  The Court held that eligibility for adjustment of status under Section 1255 depends on “admission” into the country, which necessarily entails a “lawful entry.”  In Jose Santos Sanchez’s case, the Court ruled that while TPS provided him with the nonimmigrant status needed to invoke Section 1255’s adjustment process, TPS status did not itself constitute lawful admission and therefore could not help individuals like Sanchez and his wife meet the legal-entry requirement.

Case Timeline

  • March 1, 2021

    CAC files amici curiae brief on behalf of Members of Congress

    Sup. Ct. Amici Br.
  • April 19, 2021

    The Supreme Court hears oral argument

  • June 7, 2021

    The Supreme Court issues its decision

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