Increased Litigation for Denials and Delays on Naturalization Applications

The latest available data from the federal courts show that during December 2018 the government reported 37 new federal civil immigration naturalization lawsuits. According to the case-by-case information analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, this number is up 26% over the last six months. This continues an upward monthly trend in naturalization litigation evident since March 2017 after President Trump assumed office - a trend that has accelerated over the last six months. See Table 1.

Table 1. Federal Civil Naturalization Litigation
Number of Filings December 2018 37
Percent Change from 6 months ago 26%
Percent Change from 1 year ago 39%
Percent Change from 5 years ago 66%

During calendar year 2018 the government reported 380 federal civil immigration naturalization lawsuits. This marked the highest annual total since the 2008-2009 period. See previous TRAC report on earlier trends.

Naturalized citizens are legal permanent residents (LPRs) who have applied for and been granted U.S. citizenship. See DHS annual reports on U.S. naturalizations. Many naturalization suits are filed against the federal government 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. Other suits combatting delay are filed seeking naturalization hearings under 8 USC 1446, or a mandamus action to compel a decision on an application[1]. 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.

The monthly trends for suits on naturalization matters over the past five years are shown more clearly 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. Six-month, one-year and five- year change comparisons in Table 1 are based upon these moving averages.

Figure 1. Naturalization Application Civil Filings Over the Last Five Years
(Click for larger image)

A total of 32 out of the 90 federal judicial districts covering the 50 states had one or more naturalization lawsuits filed during the last quarter of calendar year 2018. Three districts were tied for first place with the largest number of such lawsuits at 12 each. These three districts covered major metropolitan areas: Southern District of California (Los Angeles), Northern District of Illinois (Chicago), and the Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

Table 2 provides details on the remaining districts with new naturalization lawsuits filed during this period.

Table 2. Federal Naturalization Lawsuits Filed by District, October-December 2018
Judicial District Number Rate*
-All- 110 0.3
Cal, C 12 0.6
Ill, N 12 1.3
N. Y., S 12 2.3
Ga, N 8 1.2
N. Y., E 7 0.8
Fla, S 6 0.8
Cal, N 4 0.5
Fla, M 4 0.3
Minnesota 4 0.7
D. C. 3 4.3
Maryland 3 0.5
Ohio, S 3 0.5
Virg, E 3 0.5
Wash, W 3 0.5
Cal, E 2 0.2
Cal, S 2 0.6
N. J. 2 0.2
N. Y., W 2 0.7
Ohio, N 2 0.3
Penn, E 2 0.3
Texas, N 2 0.3
Texas, S 2 0.2
Ark, W 1 0.7
Conn 1 0.3
La, W 1 0.5
Mass 1 0.1
Mich, E 1 0.2
Mich, W 1 0.3
Nevada 1 0.3
N. Y., N 1 0.3
Okla, W 1 0.5
Penn, W 1 0.3
*per million population


[1] Increased processing delays on naturalization applications are discussed in "Feds Sued Over Citizenship Processing Backlog," by Martin Macias Jr, September 17, 2018, Courthouse News Services, at:

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.