“Can USCIS still deny my citizenship case after I’ve sued them in federal court?”
Hi, I’m Jim Hacking. Immigration lawyer practicing law throughout the United States out of our office here in St. Louis Missouri.
I came back from vacation today, sporting a new beard, and got a great decision out of the eighth circuit court of appeals. The eighth circuit court of appeals is the court that’s between the district court and the US supreme court for about seven or eight states here in the Midwest, including Missouri.
This was a case that we filed, believe it or not, back in 2016 and it’s been on appeal for a while now. What was the issue in that case? Well, we have a client named Emad, and Emad had applied for citizenship and USCIS, as they often do seeing as he’s from a Muslim country, sat on his case for a really long time.
They sat on his case for two years and the law says that if 120 days have passed since your interview that you can go into federal court and ask a judge to either naturalize you, or to order USCIS to decide your case within a certain amount of time, which is usually 30 or 60 days.
As you may know we filed many of these lawsuits, but a strange strand of case law had come up in the eastern district of Missouri. USCIS had convinced a number of district courts that they maintained jurisdiction to decide a case even after the lawsuit was filed.
If you think about a case and you think about jurisdiction as a folder, or a holding place for a case, a case can only be in one place at a time. Which means that only one place can have jurisdiction over a case at one time. Many times you’ll have a case that’s at USCIS and then the person will get put in removal, and then jurisdiction rests with the immigration court.
Well, our position was that when you file an action in federal court that you have exclusive jurisdiction for your case in federal court in front of that federal district judge.
When we filed our lawsuit for Emad, I’ve sued them so many times that I believe they monitor my pleadings. We sued them on a Friday, and just a few days later they rushed and denied Emad’s naturalization case for what we thought were pretty bogus reasons.
I think there were a couple of traffic tickets or something; it was a very lame denial. One that we didn’t think would stand up in federal court.
So, when we did this we thought that the judge would allow us to have a Trial De Novo — that is a hearing as to whether or not he should get his citizenship — and that the judge could decide it or he could send the case back to USCIS.
Well, that’s not what happened. After quickly denying my client’s naturalization case they filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit saying that the case was now moot, there was nothing for the judge to do because they had finally given Emad the relief that he sought in the petition; to have an adjudication, a decision on his naturalization case.
Well, there were a number of cases from other circuits in the country. The United States federal courts have 11 different circuits and four of the circuits had gone our way. The second, the fourth, the seventh, and the ninth had all said that once you file that action in federal court that you could only have your naturalization decided in federal court, unless the judge sent the case back to USCIS.
Like I said earlier, a bunch of district court cases in Missouri went the other way. They had convinced these courts on a very twisted reasoning and a very twisted reading of the statute that they had some jurisdiction of their own, and that they could decide it while the case was pending in front of the federal judge.
We did not like that motion to dismiss being granted by the judge, and we decided to take it up on appeal to the eighth circuit court of appeals.
Now, you should know that the eighth circuit is very unfriendly to immigrants. I tracked it for a while. There were about 130 or 140 cases in a row where the eighth circuit had ruled in favor of the government and against the immigrant on a long number of cases.
We knew we had our work cut out for us but we briefed the issues, we went over it, we briefed it again, we talked it through, we studied, we practiced, we got ready for oral argument.
When we went to oral argument I felt pretty good about it, because I got to say everything I wanted to say, the judges seemed to understand what our position was, and frankly the government attorney sounded a little bit like a buffoon.
The arguments they were making were stupid and now eighth months later we finally got word that our client’s case had been reversed on appeal, the case has been sent back to the district court for the judge to either naturalize our client, or to send it back to USCIS with instructions
Now, they still might go ahead and deny him. We’re not sure what’s going to happen, but they’re going to have to come back to see Judge Ross if they deny him, because we’ll appeal it back to them. We’re not going to let them get away with their BS, bogus denial of Emad.
So, it was a great victory for immigrants, a great victory for our office. It was great news for me coming back from vacation to have that decision. I had been hoping and praying that Emad would win his case. I’m very happy that he did, very happy that he’s in a better position than he was before, and hopefully one day soon I’ll get to go to Emad’s oath ceremony. We’ll see.
But in the meantime we’ve knocked out all those bad cases from the district court and for people in the eighth circuit, which includes Missouri and Minnesota, Iowa, Arkansas, the Dakotas, and Nebraska. We’ve made new law and we’ve set a standard so that once we file an action in federal court USCIS can’t cause it’s mischief, can’t cause it’s tricks, can’t try to rush to deny a case and we’re really happy about that, because we feel like we’ve put them in their place.
Thanks for checking this out, I hope it wasn’t too long or boring. I Hope it made some sense. If you have any questions about naturalization or about lawsuits give us a call at 314-961-8200. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you want to read more about this case, a link to the court documents is here.
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