The ruling states that federal immigration law prohibits people who entered the country illegally and now have Temporary Protected Status (TPS) from seeking "green cards" to remain in the country permanently.
Kagan writes that while Congress "could have gone further by deeming TPS recipients to have not only nonimmigrant status but also a lawful admission", it is not in the Court's authority "to say that the something it does is not enough".
He urged the court to defer to the position taken by the agency in the case and he noted that there are "tens of thousands" of TPS holders who have adjusted their status, but they had been lawfully admitted as a student or an au pair or a temporary worker.
"The question here is whether the conferral of TPS enables him to obtain LPR [Legal Permanent Residency] status despite his unlawful entry".
The decision handed a legal victory to the Biden administration, which found itself at odds with a number of Democratic lawmakers and immigrant rights advocacy groups who filed friend of the court briefs in the case.
In Sanchez v. Mayorkas, Kagan noted that US immigration law, "applied according to its plain terms, prevents Sanchez from becoming an LPR". The United States gave El Salvador the temporary protected status (TPS) designation in 2001 after a series of earthquakes in that country and gave protection to the couple under the program.
"He therefore can not become a permanent resident of this country", Kagan concluded.
The ruling in Sanchez v. Mayorkas, authored by Justice Elena Kagan, could affect tens of thousands of immigrants now living in the US under Temporary Protected Status, the Associated Press reported.
"Petitioner Jose Santos Sanchez entered this country unlawfully from El Salvador".
A three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled unanimously that "a grant of TPS does not constitute an admission". The fact that he came into the United States without authorization meant he wasn't eligible for permanent resident status, also known as a green card. Those countries include Haiti, Honduras, Myanmar, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen.
"Sanchez now wishes to become a lawful permanent resident (LPR) of the United States", she continued.
Although a district court ruled in favor of the couple, an appeals court reversed.
The high court's decision on Monday is the second unanimous decision it has released on immigration in the current cycle of rulings.
The case is Sanchez v. Mayorkas, No. 20-315 in the Supreme Court of the United States.
In court, Amy M. Saharia, a lawyer for Jose and Sonia Gonzales, argued that having been admitted is "inherent" in the TPS status. For instances, she wrote, a foreign national who entered the country legally on a tourist visa, but stayed on for several months after the visa's expiration would meet the requirement that he entered the country lawfully.
The government said that while Congress had made some individuals eligible to adjust their status if they met certain criteria and had a sponsor, it was not available to those who had not made a lawful entry.