Civil Immigration Suits Continue to Rise

The latest available data from the federal courts show that during May 2021 the government reported 467 new civil immigration filings. All but one were suits filed in which the federal government or its officials were the defendant. According to the case-by-case court records analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, this number is up 4.0 percent over the previous month when the number of civil filings of this type totaled 449. See Table 1.

Table 1. Civil Immigration Filings
Number Latest Month 467
Percent Change from previous month 4.0%
Percent Change from 1 year ago 8.1%
Percent Change from 5 years ago 98.8%

When monthly civil immigration filings are compared with those of the same period in the previous year, their number was up 8.1 percent. In general, civil immigration filings have been rising over the past five years particularly during the last two years. Overall, the data show that civil immigration lawsuits have almost doubled — up 98.8 percent — from levels reported in May 2016.

The long-term trend in civil filings for these matters going back five years is shown more clearly in Figure 1. The vertical bars in Figure 1 represent the number of civil immigration filings 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)

Specific Nature of Suits

Most immigration suits brought are seeking review of agency action or inaction and fall under a broad category of "other immigration actions." Many suits were filed with their cause of action citing the Administrative Procedures Act, or were mandamus actions seeking to compel action on visa and naturalization applications, or to review denials.

Habeas corpus actions seeking review by immigrants being detained are another category. The volume of these is down from last year during the height of the COVID pandemic. There was only one suit challenging a deportation order last month — perhaps not surprising since interior immigration enforcement is down and most immigrants are currently being turned away at the border and not allowed to enter the country.

Table 2 shows the top nature of suit categories recorded in the matters filed during May 2021.

Table 2. Specific Nature of Suit Types
Nature of Suit Count Rank 1 yr ago 5 yrs ago
Other Immigration Actions 380 1 2 1
Habeas Corpus - Alien Detainee 52 2 1 2
Naturalization Application 34 3 3 3
Deportation 1 4 - 4

Top Ranked Judicial Districts

Relative to population, the volume of civil matters of this type filed in federal district courts during May 2021 was 1.4 per every million persons in the United States. One year ago the relative number of filings was 1.2. Understandably, there is great variation in the per capita number of civil filings in each of the nation's ninety-four federal judicial districts.

  • Washington, D.C. — with 73.7 civil filings as compared with 1.4 civil filings per one million people in the United States — was the most active during May 2021. Of course, as the nation's capital cases brought there are not necessarily restricted to residents living in D.C. The District of Washington, D.C. was ranked 1st a year ago, while it was ranked 2nd five years ago.

  • The District of Vermont ranked 2nd.

  • The Eastern District of New York now ranks 3rd.

The federal judicial district which showed the greatest growth in the rate of civil filings compared to one year ago — 1800.0 percent — was Northern District of Georgia (Atlanta). Compared to five years ago, the district with the largest growth — 1584.4 percent — was Washington, D.C.

Table 3. Top Ten Districts (per one million people)
Judicial District Percapita Count Rank 1yr ago 5yrs ago
D. C. 73.7 52 1 1 2
Vermont 14.4 9 2 - -
N. Y., E 9.2 75 3 31 1
N. Y., S 6.5 34 4 8 3
N. Y., W 5 14 5 2 18
Nebraska 4.7 9 6 40 12
Cal, C 3.3 64 7 14 22
Ga, N 2.7 19 8 50 13
Ga, M 2.5 5 9 3 4
Ill, N 2.3 21 10 15 7
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.