Civil Immigration Litigation in October 2019 Ties All-Time High

The latest available data from the federal courts show that during October 2019 the government reported 367 new civil immigration lawsuits were filed. According to the case-by-case information analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University covering monthly filings since October 2007, this number ties the previous all-time high when 367 suits were also filed back in December 2016. In general, immigration litigation has been rising. Lawsuits are up 15.4 percent over the previous month when the number of civil filings of this type totaled 318. And they are almost double the number of filings from five years ago. See Table 1.

Table 1. Civil Immigration Litigation
Number Latest Month 367
Percent Change from previous month 15.40%
Percent Change from 1 year ago 13.10%
Percent Change from 5 years ago 94.60%

The long term trend in civil immigration filings going back five years is shown more clearly in Figure 1. The vertical bars in Figure 1 represent the number of civil filings of this type recorded each month. The superimposed line on the bars plots the six-month moving average so that natural fluctuations are smoothed out. One-year and five-year change comparisons are based upon the moving averages.


Figure 1. Civil Immigration Filings over the Last Five Years
(Click for larger image)

Reasons Civil Immigration Lawsuits Are Filed

The U.S. government is almost always the defendant when civil immigration suits are filed in federal court. Common causes of action are those involving visa and naturalization[1] applications - often complaining because federal officials have been dragging their feet and not acting on them. Such suits seek to compel the federal government to rule on them. On occasion lawsuits challenge the decisions that have been issued and seek to reverse those decisions. Other suits challenge the continued detention of a noncitizen[2]. A small handful challenge deportation itself. See Figure 2.


Figure 1. Truth in Lending Civil Filings
(Click for larger image)

Over the past year the largest increases have been in mandamus actions seeking to have federal officials rule on visa and other applications that have been filed.

Top Ranked Judicial Districts

The Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn) led the nation with the largest number of immigration lawsuits filed in October 2019. Forty-six (46) lawsuits were filed in that district. This was followed by the Central District of California with 37 suits, and the District of Columbia with 32.

Relative to population, the District of Columbia outpaced every other district where over forty times the national average of such suits were filed. The Eastern District of New York experienced five times the national average relative to its population size, followed by the Middle District of Georgia (Macon) with four times the national average.

The federal judicial district which showed the greatest growth in the rate of civil immigration filings compared to one year ago - 133 percent - was Arizona. Compared to five years ago, the district with the largest growth - 605 percent - was Western District of New York (Buffalo).

Out of the total of 94 federal judicial districts, 47 had one or more of these suits filed during October. Table 2 provides district-by-district figures.

Table 2. Civil Immigration Lawsuits by Federal Judicial District, October 2019
District Number Rate* Rank
Number Rate
-All- 367 1.1
D. C. 32 45.6 3 1
N. Y., E 46 5.6 1 2
Ga, M 9 4.5 13 3
N. Y., S 20 3.8 5 4
Ill, N 28 3.0 4 5
N. Y., W 7 2.5 16 6
Ala, N 7 2.4 16 7
Miss, S 4 2.1 23 8
Texas, S 20 2.0 5 9
Arizona 14 2.0 7 9
Cal, C 37 1.9 2 11
Mass 13 1.9 9 11
Cal, N 14 1.7 7 13
Penn, M 5 1.6 20 14
Ga, N 10 1.4 11 15
Wash, W 8 1.4 14 15
S Car 7 1.4 16 15
Fla, S 10 1.3 11 18
La, M 1 1.2 32 19
Fla, M 13 1.1 9 20
Minnesota 6 1.1 19 20
Delaware 1 1.0 32 22
N. J. 8 0.9 14 23
La, W 2 0.9 29 23
Maryland 5 0.8 20 25
Penn, E 5 0.8 20 25
Ark, W 1 0.7 32 27
New Hamp 1 0.7 32 27
Mich, E 4 0.6 23 29
Virg, E 4 0.6 23 29
Cal, S 2 0.6 29 29
Ga, S 1 0.6 32 29
Wash, E 1 0.6 32 29
Ohio, S 3 0.5 26 34
Texas, E 2 0.5 29 34
Ill, C 1 0.5 32 34
Virg, W 1 0.5 32 34
Texas, N 3 0.4 26 38
Texas, W 3 0.4 26 38
Tenn, M 1 0.4 32 38
Conn 1 0.3 32 41
Nevada 1 0.3 32 41
N. Y., N 1 0.3 32 41
Penn, W 1 0.3 32 41
Wisc, E 1 0.3 32 41
Oregon 1 0.2 32 46
Cal, E 1 0.1 32 47
* per million population

Footnotes

[1] See TRAC's June 2014 report entitled "Recent Trends in Naturalization Application Lawsuits".

[2] See TRAC's September 2018 report entitled "Suits Challenging Confinement of Noncitizens Up".

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.