Court: Immigrants with Temporary Protected Status May Have to Return to Former Countries

A recent appeals court decision may jeopardize immigrants who came to the U.S. after fleeing natural disasters and wars in their home countries.

The current administration has taken a tough stance on immigration, especially those fleeing from dangerous conditions, wars, and natural disasters. While immigration advocates appeal policies in federal courts, visa and green card holders remain at risk. This is particularly true for people in the U.S. under temporary protected status (TPS). After fleeing their home countries due to natural disasters, wars, and other catastrophes, a new ruling now threatens to send them back.

Immigrating to the U.S. Under Temporary Protected Status

Immigrants come to the U.S. for many reasons, such as better job opportunities, to reunite with family members, and to acquire special skills or experiences. In some cases, living here is a matter of life and death. For citizens from war-torn countries and areas devastated by natural disasters, U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) offers options designed to provide a safe haven.

Temporary protected status (TPS) can be granted to certain immigrants who have registered with the government and can meet certain eligibility requirements, such as being present in the United States for a certain period of time. To be eligible, you must be a national of a designated TPS country. These include:

In addition to the country you are from, you must meet other qualifications under USCIS guidelines. Immigrants may be barred for criminal or national security-related reasons and you must be physically present here since the effective date of your TPS designation or other dates assigned by the Department of Homeland Security. Currently, there are hundreds of thousands of immigrants in the U.S. that meet these qualifications.

Court Ruling Upholds Terminating Protections for Immigrants Under Temporary Protected Status

The Trump administration has fought existing policies regarding immigration, including granting TPS status. In some cases, this status has allowed immigrants to remain and work in the U.S. for decades. Administration officials claim that problems in many of the countries listed occurred years ago and no longer justify the special designation. As a result, they want to terminate Temporary Protected Status for large numbers of immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Nepal, and Sudan.

When this new policy was announced, immigration advocates filed a lawsuit, and the federal court agreed with the advocates that the Trump administration’s justifications for rescinding valuable TPS benefits were illegal. The Trump administration appealed. Unfortunately, the appeals court upheld the administration’s position. According to a September 2020 New York Times news report, more than 400,000 people here on a TPS designation could end up being deported if they fail to return to their home countries voluntarily.

While the State of TPS Remains in Limbo, TPS Holders May Have Options

While the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals case is disappointing, immigration advocates have vowed to seek en banc rehearing—that is, to have the case reheard by the entire court of appeals rather than just a three-judge panel—or even take the case to the Supreme Court.

Furthermore, while the court’s decision only affects TPS holders from Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti, and El Salvador, it is reasonable to believe the court may apply the same logic to a separate case involving Honduran TPS holders.

Importantly, even though the injunction in the case has been lifted by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the decision just moves the Department of Homeland Security one step closer to terminating TPS for recipients from some of these countries. The lifting of the injunction does not permit DHS to immediately enforce TPS termination for the affected countries. According to the government’s notice in the Federal Register, once all appeals have been exhausted, the TPS wind-down periods for each country will vary. Most countries will have about 120 days after the issuance of an appellate mandate (which itself takes 52 days) before the termination could go into effect. The wind-down policy for El Salvador will take a year. Salvadorans enjoy additional protections; for legal reasons, the 120-day wind-down period for Sudan, Haiti, and Nicaragua and the 365-day wind-down time for El Salvador will not start automatically. Rather, DHS will notify beneficiaries from those four countries when the clock begins.

If President Trump’s plan to terminate TPS for any of the targeted six countries is successful, TPS beneficiaries from those countries will fall out of status or go back to the immigration status they held before TPS was granted to them. If they have no lawful status, they will be subject to arrest and deportation.

There are forms of relief available to some people with TPS. In other words, some TPS holders are eligible to obtain permanent residence through family- or employment-based immigration laws. It is important for TPS holders to discuss their specific options with a qualified immigration attorney to see if they may have a more permanent option to remain in the United States in case TPS is discontinued.

Contact Our Nashville Immigration Attorneys Today

With changes to federal policies and practices regarding immigration, it is important to speak with our experienced Nashville immigration attorneys to determine how these changes could impact you. If you are here on Temporary Protected Status, we urge you to reach out to Ozment Law, PLC, today. Call us at (615) 321-8888 to schedule a consultation and discuss the future of TPS.

You can count on us to provide the trusted legal guidance and professional representation you need to protect yourself and your loved ones during these difficult times. Call or contact our Nashville office online to request.