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Haitian Attorney: Supreme Court Ruling A Reminder That TPS Legislation 'Was Not Well Written'

Jose A. Iglesias
Miami Herald
Haitian-Americans demonstrate outside the Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach on Haitian Flag Day last month urging the Biden Administration to renew Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitians living in the U.S. It was renewed May 21 for another 18 months.

One Haitian community leader had warned of the Supreme Court decision that Temporary Protected Status holders who entered the U.S. illegally may not get green cards.

On Monday the Supreme Court ruled that people who have Temporary Protected Status (TPS) here cannot get green cards, or permanent legal residence, if they entered the country illegally.

The decision, which affects as many as 400,000 TPS recipients in the U.S., angered many immigration advocates — but should it have been a surprise?

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Having TPS means migrants in the U.S. cannot be deported, and may work here legally, if conditions in their countries are too dangerous to return to. The Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling means undocumented migrants who may have TPS but came to the U.S. illegally cannot be granted legalized permanent residence status.

The big reason: Congress did not allow for that in its 1990 TPS legislation — even for TPS holders who’ve been living here for decades. That was the case with the plaintiff in Monday's SCOTUS case, a Salvadoran who came to the U.S. illegally but was granted TPS in 2001 and has had his protected status renewed every 18 months since then. Should it not be renewed again, he will be subject to deportation.

That hole in the TPS system — its failure to lay out what legally should happen when temporary status morphs into a more permanent situation like the plaintiff's — is why Haitian community leaders, like Miami immigration attorney Soeurette Michel, expected the Supreme Court decision.

“TPS was not a well written piece of legislation," said Michel, who in 2017 wrote a Miami Herald op-ed headlined "Here's the truth: TPS is an agonizing piece of legislation."

"The Supreme Court is telling us clearly — temporary means temporary, as simple as that. If you want it to be permanent you have to provide new guidelines, new provisions in your legislation for that.”

The U.S. House recently passed an immigration reform bill that would give some TPS recipients a path to permanent residence and citizenship. It faces a tougher time in the Senate.

But experts like Michel feel the bill’s parameters are still not comprehensive enough to alleviate the uncertainty hanging over so many TPS holders, including tens of thousands of Haitians in South Florida.

“I believe Congress can and should do a better job when it comes to [explaining] when, how you go from the temporary to the permanent," Michel said, "and take the pain and the suffering away.”

Eligible people from a dozen countries, including El Salvador, Honduras — and most recently Venezuela — are designated for TPS.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.