Third Federal Court Rejects Government Interpretation of ‘Admission’ into U.S.

This week, the federal district court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled that when U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) granted Melvin Medina-a Honduran citizen who entered the United States without inspection on October 9, 1992-Temporary Protected Status (TPS), it "inspected and admitted" him for purposes of adjustment of status. This is now the third federal court to have rejected the government's interpretation as inconsistent with the Immigration and Nationality Act, paving the way for TPS beneficiaries who fall within the geographic boundaries covered by these courts and who are married to U.S. citizens to finally become legal permanent residents (LPR).

What does this ruling mean and why is it important? Attorney Patrick Taurel explains:

The general rule is that only individuals who were "inspected and admitted or paroled" into the United States by an immigration officer may apply for LPR status from inside the United States. Many of those who were not "inspected and admitted or paroled" into the United States (i.e. those who crossed the border without passing through an official checkpoint) must leave the country to have their paperwork processed by the U.S. consulate in the immigrant's last place of residence abroad to obtain LPR status. This departure, though, can trigger harsh penalties that can strand immigrants abroad for months, years, decades, and sometimes forever. That left many TPS recipients, including those with U.S. citizen spouses, essentially fenced into the United States because departing to obtain LPR status meant running a risk of triggering the aforementioned penalties or of encountering the dangerous conditions that merited the TPS designation. Due to an unfortunate interpretation of the law by immigration officials that says that the acquisition of TPS does not constitute an "inspection and admission," those who entered unlawfully were also unable to get LPR status from inside the United States.

Mr. Medina challenged this denial in the federal district court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. He argued that when USCIS granted him TPS status it "inspected and admitted" him for purposes of adjustment of status. For support, he relied on language from the TPS statute which states that, "for purposes of adjustment of status," the TPS recipient "shall be considered as being in, and maintaining, lawful status as a nonimmigrant." He argued that a person could not "be in" nonimmigrant status unless they had been inspected and admitted by an immigration officer at a port of entry. Consequently, Congress intended TPS recipients "to be considered" to have been inspected and admitted for adjustment of status when it included this language in the TPS statute.

The district court agreed with this argument and ruled in favor of Mr. Medina. The court carefully analyzed the language of both the adjustment of status and the TPS statutes and determined that no other interpretation was reasonable. In doing so, it rejected various counter-arguments raised by the government.

This decision follows similar decisions issued last year by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and a district court in Seattle, Washington. The issue is currently pending before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

As courts continue to recognize that being granted TPS counts as an "admission" into the United States, immigration officials must revisit their narrow interpretation of the law.