Suits Challenging Confinement of Noncitizens Jump

Habeas corpus filings in federal courts challenging the confinement of noncitizens have risen sharply. The latest available data from the federal courts show that during January 2017 the government reported 168 new habeas corpus civil filings by noncitizens. According to the case-by-case information analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), this number is up 24.4 percent over the previous month when the number of civil filings of this type totaled 135.

Table 1. Habeas Corpus - Noncitizen Detainee Civil Filings
Number Latest Month 168
Percent Change from previous month 24.4%
Percent Change from 1 year ago 57.7%
Percent Change from 5 years ago 76.0%

The comparisons of the number of civil filings for habeas corpus - noncitizen detainee-related suits are based on case-by-case court records which were compiled and analyzed by TRAC (see Table 1).

When monthly 2017 civil filings of this type are compared with those of the same period in the previous year, their number was up (57.7%). Civil filings for January 2017 are also higher than they were for the same period five years ago. Overall, the data show that civil filings of this type are up 76.0 percent from levels reported in January 2012 (see Figure 1). The one-year and five-year change comparisons are based upon a six-month moving average so that natural fluctuations are smoothed out.

Figure 1. Habeas Corpus Filings in Federal District Court Challenging Confinement of Noncitizens

Top Ranked Judicial Districts

Where these types of suits are filed in large part reflects where particular detention facilities are located. These facilities are used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to house noncitizens who the agency seeks to deport.

The top ranked judicial districts are shown in Table 2. Districts are listed if they were either in the top ten in terms of the sheer number of such suits, or their volume relative to the district's population size placed them among the top ten. Counts shown in Table 2 include all habeas corpus filings in federal districts courts for the FY 2015 - FY 2017 period (October 2014 - January 2017).

In terms of sheer numbers, New Jersey had the largest number of these civil suits, with 483 separate actions recorded. Relative to the state's population size, this placed that state third in the nation.

The Middle District of Georgia (Macon) ranked first on a per capita basis, and placed third in the number of new suits that district saw. It had 201 suits from October 1, 2014 through January 2017. The Middle District of Pennsylvania (Scranton) came in second with 239 separate suits, and also ranked second on a per capita basis.

Two other districts had over 100 suits each during this same period. The federal district court in the Northern District of Alabama (Birmingham) recorded 157 new habeas corpus filings, while the court in the Central District of California (Los Angeles) recorded 109.

Table 2. Top Ranked Districts in Habeas Corpus Filings Challenging Noncitizen Confinement
  Filings Ranking
District Number Rate* Number Rate
Ga, M 201 43.9 3 1
Penn, M 239 37.7 2 2
N. J. 483 27.0 1 3
Ala, N 157 26.9 4 4
N. Y., W 91 15.3 6 5
La, W 67 14.3 12 6
N. Y., S 81 7.1 9 8
Mass 88 6.0 7 9
Arizona 88 5.8 8 10
Texas, W 68 5.4 11 11
Penn, E 73 4.4 10 12
Cal, C 109 2.7 5 13
* per million population

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.