NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM/CNN) – The US Supreme Court has ruled the government can block non-citizens who are in the country under a program that temporarily protects them from deportation in certain situations from applying for a green card if they entered the country unlawfully.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote for a unanimous court.

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“Today’s decision is not just a setback for those immigrants currently in Temporary Protected Status who did not enter the United States lawfully; it also reinforces the barriers that Dreamers would face until and unless Congress provides a statutory path to some kind of permanent lawful status,” said University of Texas School of Law professor Steve Vladeck.

“The Executive Branch may have some authority to confer forms of temporary legal status on those who crossed the border without permission, but the Supreme Court today reinforced, however indirectly, that only Congress can provide a permanent answer,” he added.

The case concerns Jose Sanchez and Sonia Gonzales, a New Jersey couple who came to the US illegally in 1997 and 1998 and now have four children. Their youngest was born in the US and is a citizen.

Following a series of earthquakes in El Salvador in 2001, they applied for and received Temporary Protected Status, which shields foreign nationals present in the US from removal if they have been subject to armed conflicts or environmental disasters in their homeland. In 2014, the couple sought to apply to “adjust” their status to become lawful permanent residents and apply for a green card.

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services denied their application, noting that they were ineligible to apply because they had not entered the country legally and never been formally admitted to the US.

The case confronted two sections of immigration law: one that says that those in TPS should be considered as “maintaining lawful status,” and another that says in order to adjust status, an individual in TPS must have been admitted lawfully.

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Kagan said that the conferral of TPS status does not make an unlawful entrant like Sanchez eligible for a green card.

Kagan said that there was “no dispute” that Sanchez entered the US “unlawfully, without inspection.” She said that a “straightforward” application of immigration law supports the government’s decision to deny him status as a lawful permanent resident because he was not lawfully admitted.

“He therefore cannot become a permanent resident of this country,” Kagan concluded.

Currently, there are about 400,000 people with TPS status in the country and 85,000 have managed to adjust status.

Although a district court ruled in favor of the couple, an appeals court reversed. It held that TPS does not “constitute an admission.”

In court, Amy M. Saharia, a lawyer for Jose and Sonia Gonzales, argued that having been admitted is “inherent” in the TPS status. But Michael R. Huston, assistant to the US solicitor general, drew a line between status and admission, arguing against the couple.

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