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Entry Without Inspection Leads to Citizenship Through TPS

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In Ramirez v. Dougherty, the district court for the Western District of Washington, in the Ninth Circuit, held that there was a path to citizenship for an alien from El Salvador who entered the U.S. without having been inspected and admitted or paroled, thus illegally in 1999.

The plaintiff had lived in the U.S. for approximately two years when an earthquake in his native country, El Salvador, prompted the Attorney General to designate that country for Temporary Protection Status (TPS).  TPS is a form of protection granted to individuals from certain countries that are experiencing temporary, but extraordinary humanitarian crises, and who were already in the U.S when their native country was designated by the Attorney General for TPS.

According to USCIS, the U.S. may grant TPS to nationals from countries undergoing armed conflict such as civil war, or environmental disasters such as earthquakes or hurricanes.  Individuals granted TPS are temprorarily not removable from the U.S., can obtain employment authorization, and may be granted travel authorization.  Current countries whose nationals are designated TPS include El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, and Syria.

TPS itself does not provide a pathway to citizenship.  However, an individual granted TPS may apply for nonimmigrant or immigrant status based if they are independently eligible for that status. For instance, if an individual is granted TPS and meets the eligibility requirements for citizenship, he or she may petition to adjust status to lawful permanent resident.

Ramirez v. Doughterty was groundbreaking because the court held that even though the plaintiff had entered the U.S. illegally his later participation in the TPS program constituted a lawful admission for immigration purposes. Thus, the court found that when he married a U.S. citizen and petitioned to adjust status, his illegal entrance into the U.S. did not bar him from becoming a lawful permanent resident.

The court’s holding should not be given an overly broad interpretation as it did not hold that TPS provides an independent ground for becoming a lawful permanent resident.  Nor did it find that TPS recipients have an automatic path to citizenship. Rather, it found it essential that the plaintiff had disclosed his illegal entrance into the U.S. in his TPS application, and that he met the other requirements for adjustment of status such as good moral character. Finally, the court found that policy considerations, like the fact that the plaintiff had lived in the U.S. for fifteen years and had established roots here, also weighed in his favor.

This decision provides hope for those who have been granted protection under TPS but who are in limbo because their illegal entrance into the U.S. prevents them from becoming naturalized citizens.

Filed under: Immigration Issues

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