WASHINGTON — (TNS) The Supreme Court on Monday dealt a setback to hundreds of thousands of immigrants who have so-called temporary protected status, ruling they can’t have a green card if they entered the country illegally.

In a 9-0 decision, the justices said federal law protects these immigrants from deportation and it allows them to obtain a work permit, but it does not give them a right to lawful permanent status unless they are here “pursuant to a lawful admission.”

That means TPS recipients who entered the county legally as students or tourists, and stayed under TPS may obtain a green card, said Justice Elena Kagan. But the same is not true of those who entered illegally.

“Because a grant of TPS does not come with a ticket of admission,” she wrote in Sanchez vs. Mayorkas, “it does not eliminate the disqualifying effect of an unlawful entry.”

Temporary protected status has been extended to about 320,000 immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Sudan, Venezuela and Yemen.

But lower courts had been divided over whether these migrants, many of whom have lived here for decades, may apply for and receive lawful permanent status. Four years ago, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court in California ruled that TPS recipients had a lawful status, and therefore, were eligible for green cards even if they had entered the country illegally.

Monday’s ruling is the third in three weeks in which the high court has disagreed unanimously with the 9th Circuit on a matter of immigration law.

Last week, the high court set aside a rule used by the 9th Circuit that presumed immigrants seeking asylum were telling the truth unless an immigration judge made an “explicit” find they were not credible. Two weeks ago, the court ruled immigrants who were once deported could be prosecuted for an unlawful entry, even if their original deportation was questionable.

The case decided Monday by the Supreme Court began when Jose Sanchez and his wife, Sonia Gonzalez, sought green cards. They arrived from El Salvador in the late 1990s, established lives and careers in New Jersey and had four sons. But they were not lawfully admitted.

Kagan said Congress is considering legislation that would allow such TPS recipients to obtain lawful permanent resident status, but only Congress, not the court, can change the law in this respect.

“Sanchez was not lawfully admitted, and his TPS does not alter that fact,” she wrote. “He therefore cannot become a permanent resident of this country.”

A grassroots group that lobbies for TPS families said the ruling should spur Congress to act.

“Although this is a huge blow for one of the only available avenues for our families to adjust their status, this will not deter our struggle for obtaining green cards for all TPS holders,” said Claudia Lainiez, an organizer for the National TPS Alliance. “This news only emphasizes the fact that Congress must act now to guarantee permanent protections and for President Biden to expand the TPS status to everyone who deserves it.”

(By David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times via Tribune News Service)