A unanimous ruling out of the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday will affect thousands of North Carolina immigrants who have received temporary protected status. The high court ruled that those who entered the country illegally and later received temporary protected status, often referred to as TPS, are not eligible to apply for permanent residency.
About 12,000 immigrants with TPS live in North Carolina. According to the Congressional Research Service that’s about 4% of temporary protected status holders in the U.S.
While this decision does not apply to TPS holders who entered the country legally, Charlotte Immigration Attorney Janeen Hicks Pierre says the decision affects most TPS holders.
“Most of the time when you are fleeing from your country because there is a civil war, or there is an earthquake, or there is a tornado, or there is a hurricane, or there is an Ebola outbreak and you have to come to the United States,” Hicks Pierre said. “Often times you're seeking humanitarian aid and you don't come in with a visa and you haven't had time, or the infrastructure or your country has been destroyed and you don't have the opportunity.”
This temporary status is given to immigrants from 12 designated countries suffering from civil conflict or natural disasters. Most recently Venezuela and Haiti were added to the list.
One of the requirements for applying to become a permanent resident is legal admission to the United States. Prior to the decision, obtaining TPS did not count as admission for North Carolina immigrants. Immigrants had to receive a special permit to leave the country and reenter legally.
Immigration attorney Cynthia Aziz says there are a lot of barriers for TPS holders who try to take that route. These include financial, safety and legal concerns.
“Those individuals who had hopes of being able to seek adjustment of status so that they would not have to return to their countries for processing, are not now eligible to seek legal status,” Aziz said.
A path to citizenship for TPS holders was already limited to those who were sponsored by an employer or had family members with citizenship. Raul Pinto, senior staff attorney at the North Carolina Justice Center, said the Supreme Court’s decision further limits the options.
“It's a mixed feeling, mainly because we know that there are thousands of TPS recipients in North Carolina that could be eligible to take advantage of the TPS being seen as an admission,” Pinto said. “There's something to be said about the status that they gain in the process that they go through in order to gain TPS. That is very much similar to any other immigrant who gained admission into the country. And so in those terms, I think it is going to negatively affect those people and their pathway to citizenship.”
Pinto says a path to citizenship for TPS holders now lies in the hands of Congress.
“I think that both of our senators (Richard Burr and Thom Tillis) have it in their hands to support a bill that would allow people with TPS to be on a path for adjustment status,” Pinto said. “Many North Carolinians that have TPS have been here for years, if not decades. Those folks have been contributing to our communities, both economically and culturally and socially. And therefore, it is imperative that Congress acts and provides them with a path to citizenship.”
Legislation passed in the House back in March but has not yet reached the Senate.
The national TPS Alliance has planned a vigil for Thursday at 10 a.m. outside Tillis’s office in Charlotte.
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