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Removing Barriers to Family Unity for Holders of Temporary Protected Status: An Opportunity for Biden Administration

March 12, 2021 (1 min read)

Prof. David A. Martin, Mar. 11, 2021

"Currently before the Supreme Court is a little-noticed immigration case with profound significance. Sanchez v. Mayorkas offers the Biden administration an opportunity to make major progress, without waiting for legislative action, on one of its central humanitarian goals – providing durable status to long-resident noncitizens.

A straightforward change in the government’s policy and its litigation stance could help remove a barrier blocking critical relief to several tens of thousands of noncitizens who have resided in the United States with official government permission under Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Because of a longstanding but misguided agency reading of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), these noncitizens are stuck in limbo and practically unable to get the permanent resident status for which they are independently eligible based on family or employment relationships. Those most affected are TPS recipients married to U.S. citizens. The case turns on a highly technical question of statutory interpretation over which six courts of appeals have so far split evenly, but the human stakes are substantial, and a change of position by the administration would have significant impact.

The plaintiff TPS holders in Sanchez may well win the case based on the plain language of the relevant statutes, as ably argued in their brief and by supporting amici. But until now, the government has argued, to the contrary, that the language of the statute compels the agency’s current restrictive interpretation. This essay contends that the administration could provide crucial support for the TPS holders under a different legal framework that, for understandable reasons, neither side has given much emphasis.

The alternative approach is for the administration to acknowledge – in light of the statutory text, the deep and abiding circuit split, and a surprising November ruling by the Justice Department’s own Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) – that the statutory language is ambiguous. On that foundation, the government has the discretion to adopt a new (and better) interpretation that would permit eligible TPS recipients to make use of adjustment of status to obtain a green card."

- David A. Martin is Warner-Booker Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia.