Recent Trends in Naturalization Application Lawsuits
The latest available data from the federal courts show that during the first eight months of FY 2014 the government reported 195 new civil filings in the category of immigration naturalization disputes. If the current pace of filings continues, the projected number of such cases for the entire year will be 293, up slightly from the level of 274 in FY 2013.
However, this projected figure is about one third lower than the level seen five years ago during FY 2009, and only half of the number of such suits filed as recently as FY 2008 when TRAC's monitoring of this type of litigation began. The comparisons of the number of civil filings for naturalization application-related suits are based on case-by-case court records which were compiled and analyzed by TRAC (see Table 1).
Naturalized citizens are legal permanent residents (LPRs) who have applied for and been granted U.S. citizenship. See DHS document U.S. Naturalizations. Virtually all naturalization suits are filed after individuals have had their applications to become a naturalized citizen denied by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). The most common cause of action to dispute this is under 8 USC 1447, Denial of Application for Naturalization Hearing. In these suits the federal government is the defendant.
It is rare for the federal government to sue in naturalization matters. However, this can happen if the government seeks to revoke someone's citizenship. Title 8 Section 1451 sets forth commonly cited grounds for seeking revocation of citizenship. Compared to the 195 naturalization suits brought by individuals during FY 2014, there have only been five suits recorded where the federal government sued to revoke an individual's citizenship.
The monthly trends for suits disputing naturalization denials over the past five years are shown in Figure 1. The vertical bars in Figure 1 represent the number of new suits designated as naturalization matters filed in court each month. The superimposed line on the bars plots the six-month moving average so that natural fluctuations are smoothed out.
Naturalization Disputes Rare Compared with Naturalization Applications
Court actions involving a dispute are rare relative to the volume of naturalization applications. For example, available statistics from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services indicate that in FY 2013 a total of 779,929 persons were naturalized, while 83,112 naturalization petitions were denied. Compared to the number of petitions denied, the 274 court filings last year represented just 0.33 percent — or only 3.3 suits per 1,000 naturalization petition denials.
The relatively larger number of suits filed during FY 2008 - FY 2009 (see earlier Table 1) followed an unusual jump in naturalizations applications filed during FY 2007 (see Table 2). As might be expected, a large number of naturalization denials as well as grants followed this one-time jump in applications. Thus, the higher number of suits filed during FY 2008 and FY 2009 appears to be largely a reflection of the large number of petition denials that occurred during this period.
The Central District of California (Los Angeles) recorded the largest number of naturalization suits filed during the first eight months of FY 2014 — a total of 24. Relative to its population size, the district was only in seventh place, with 1.3 suits per million population. This rate was still over twice the national average of 0.6 per million population.
The Northern District of Illinois (Chicago) had 20 naturalization court filings so far this year, the second highest nationally. But relative to its population size, this district was ranked first on a per capita basis. With 2.1 such suits per million population, the Northern District of Illinois saw over three times the national average.
The district with the third largest number of naturalization suits this year was the Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn) with 16 cases. Relative to its population size, this placed it in second place with 2.0 suits per million population. The Southern District of New York (Manhattan) had the third highest per capita number of naturalization disputes filed this year, but was ranked seventh in terms of the number of suits filed.
For the number of new naturalization dispute filings as well as the per capita rates for the remaining districts in the top 10 rankings in each category, see Table 3.
Each month, TRAC offers a free report focused on one area of civil litigation in the U.S. district courts. In addition, subscribers to the TRACFed data service can generate custom reports by district, office, nature of suit or federal jurisdiction via the TRAC Data Interpreter.