On July 1, 2022, the Biden administration reinstated a long-standing policy of permitting Temporary Protected Status (TPS) beneficiaries who had prior permission to travel abroad to be considered for “inspection and parole” or “inspection and admission” upon returning to the United States.
Shortly after that, Ken Cuccinelli, former Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security under the Trump administration, referred to the TPS policy change as one that would provide wide-sweeping “amnesty” to “hundreds of thousands” of unauthorized immigrants. These views were later echoed by various antagonistic anti-immigrant groups.
However, this is not the case and is a blatant misrepresentation of the TPS policy change.
The TPS policy had been in practice for nearly 30 years through multiple Republican and Democrat administrations, and it alone does not provide amnesty. Rather, it authorizes those with current legal status—TPS— to travel abroad. Upon returning to the U.S., they and all foreign nationals are still subject to standard immigration inspection and must be deemed admissible by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers.
This inspection process allows CBP officers to deny entry to any individuals who present health, criminal, or national security threats to the United States, have committed fraud, or have previously been removed from or unlawfully present in the country.
If deemed admissible, the reinstated TPS policy merely allows this admissibility determination to serve as a legal admission for adjusting status later if otherwise eligible. In other words, eligible TPS beneficiaries admitted at a port of entry could later adjust to permanent legal status if they meet all other necessary criteria.
While Cuccinelli’s comments imply that this will result in an overwhelming number of adjustments from the TPS population, available USCIS data indicates that this is an uncommon occurrence.
Indeed, the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies (CIS)’s David North wrote in 2015 that despite its legality, adjustment of status was unlikely and “would not be an option for most of the TPS beneficiaries.” More recently, CIS has abandoned this perspective and now opposes the policy’s reinstatement.
To adjust status, an admissible TPS holder must have a qualifying relationship with a U.S. citizen, legal permanent resident, or sponsoring employer. Additionally, they must meet all the criteria for adjustment of status.
While North admitted that this assertion was backed more so by his own “common sense than by statistical bases,” the data does not provide strong evidence to the contrary.
Data from the Center for Migration Studies indicate that only 10 percent of El Salvadoran TPS recipients — historically, the largest TPS recipient group —are married to a legal U.S. resident (equivalent to less than 20,000 individuals). That number goes down to less than 3,500 individuals or 6 percent of Honduran TPS beneficiaries, the second largest recipient group.
Furthermore, even if an admitted TPS holder has a qualifying relative and meets the qualifications for adjustment, obtaining permanent legal status could take several years, depending on the citizenship status of the sponsor, their relation to the beneficiary, and the beneficiary’s country of origin.
In fact, as averaged over the 28 years of the policy’s former practice, available data indicates that fewer than 3300 TPS beneficiaries obtained legal residency or U.S. citizenship per year. In all, they accounted for less than 1 percent of TPS beneficiaries in 2020 and less than 0.001 percent of all current legal permanent residents.
Most TPS beneficiaries have been in the U.S. for over twenty years through much of the prior lifespan of this policy, and the data does not imply that its reinstatement will suddenly change their behavior.
In reality, despite the fear-mongering rhetoric of Cuccinelli and anti-immigrant groups, the TPS policy reinstated in July restores a narrow benefit for a limited group of individuals who still must pass through multiple rounds of thorough government oversight and review.
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