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.

Table 1. Court Filings on
Naturalization Applications
Fiscal Year Number
2008 597
2009 438
2010 410
2011 300
2012 309
2013 274
2014* 195
*Covers only the first eight months of FY 2014 (October 2013 - May 2014).

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.

Figure 1. Naturalization Application Civil Filings over the Last Five Years

Naturalization Disputes Rare Compared with Naturalization Applications

Table 2. Petitions for Naturalization
Fiscal Year Petitions
2003 523,370 462,435 91,599
2004 662,796 537,151 103,339
2005 602,972 604,280 108,247
2006 730,642 702,589 120,722
2007 1,382,993 660,477 89,683
2008 525,786 1,046,539 121,283
2009 570,442 743,715 109,813
2010 710,544 619,913 56,994
2011 756,008 694,193 57,065
2012 899,162 757,434 65,874
2013 772,623 779,929 83,112

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.

District Comparisons

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.

Table 3. Top Ten Districts by Number and Rate of Naturalization Suits, FY 2014*
Number Rate (per million population)
District Value Top 10
District Value Top 10
Cal, C 24 1 Ill, N 2.1 1
Ill, N 20 2 N. Y., E 2.0 2
N. Y., E 16 3 N. Y., S 1.7 3
Ga, N 10 4 Ga, N 1.6 4
Fla, M 9 5 D. C. 1.6 4
Fla, S 9 5 Penn, E 1.4 6
N. Y., S 9 5 Cal, C 1.3 7
Mass 8 8 Fla, S 1.3 7
Penn, E 8 8 Mass 1.2 9
N. J. 7 10 Cal, S 1.2 10
* Covers only the first eight months.

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.