City of Seattle v. DHS
On December 9, 2019, Judge Maxine Chesney of the Northern District of California issued a nationwide preliminary injunction barring USCIS from implementing changes that would limit access to citizenship for lawful permanent residents (green card holders). The ruling, issued from the bench, halts changes to the naturalization application process that would present significant barriers to citizenship for tens of thousands of non-wealthy applicants each year. The rule went into effect on December 2.
Judge Chesney ruled that Plaintiffs were likely to succeed in their claim that USCIS failed to properly engage in the notice-and-comment rulemaking required by the Administrative Procedure Act and that the agency’s new rules making it much harder for low-income residents to apply for fee waivers for naturalization and other immigration benefits are invalid as a result.
In October, 2019, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced changes to the naturalization process that will present significant barriers to citizenship for tens of thousands of non-wealthy applicants each year.
The new rules would have made it much harder to qualify for a fee waiver, and would have severely curtailed naturalization applications, particularly from low-income applicants. Recent research from Stanford University’s Immigration Policy Lab suggests that the new rules could have reduced the number of naturalization applications filed each year by as much as 10 percent.
Immigrants are typically not eligible to naturalize until they have lived as lawful permanent residents in the United States for five years, speak English, understand U.S. history and civics, and demonstrate a commitment to the U.S. Constitution. There is also a $725 application fee. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services currently waives the fee for those who cannot afford to pay it, which is approximately 40% of applicants. Under rules in place since 2010, lawful permanent residents (also commonly referred to as green card holders), who receive means-tested benefits from another government agency, are automatically entitled to a fee waiver, making the process easy for USCIS to administer and for applicants and service providers to complete. The new policy significantly increased the burden on applicants who wished to apply for a fee waiver, and made it impossible for some poor lawful permanent residents to apply at all.
On October 30, 2019, Protect Democracy, Advancing Justice-AAJC, the Seattle City Attorney’s Office, and Mayer Brown LLP filed suit in California on behalf of organizations and communities who will be irreparably harmed by the proposed changes to the naturalization process.
Plaintiffs are the City of Seattle and five naturalization legal service providers who serve low-income, citizenship-eligible legal permanent residents: Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC), Central American Resource Center of California (CARECEN), Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), OneAmerica, and Self-Help for the Elderly.
On November 6, 2019, the organizations and communities challenging changes to the naturalization fee waiver process asked a federal court to immediately bar USCIS from implementing those changes until the pending lawsuit is resolved. They also added new claims to the case, asking the court to find that Ken Cuccinelli’s installation as acting head of USCIS was unlawful and that the proposed new rules are invalid as a result.
Cuccinelli was placed in the role of acting director in violation of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act (FVRA), which governs the process for filling a vacant executive branch position that is subject to Senate confirmation. The FVRA has been in the news lately as it also governs who will succeed Kevin McAleenan as acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
“Congress passed the FVRA to ensure that the President could not prevent the Senate from playing its constitutional role as a check on the executive branch when vacancies arise,” said Rachel Goodman, counsel at Protect Democracy. “It gave the FVRA teeth by making all actions taken by illegally-appointed officials void.”
The Northern District of California heard oral argument on Plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction on Dec. 9, 2019.
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- ECF No. 65 Order Granting Plaintiffs’ Motion for Nationwide Preliminary Injunction (12.11.2019)
- ECF No. 59 Minute Order Granting Nationwide Injunction (12.09.2019)
- ECF No. 57-2 Amicus Brief of Morton Rosenberg (FVRA Expert)
- ECF No. 52 Plaintiffs’ Reply in Further Support of Motion for Preliminary Injunction (11.25.2019)
- ECF No. 51 Defendants’ Notice of Correction (11.25.2019)
- ECF No. 50 Defendants’ Opposition to Motion for Preliminary Injunction (11.20.2019)
- ECF No. 25 Preliminary Injunction Motion: City of Seattle v. DHS (11.6.2019)
- Declaration of:
- Andrew Wong, Ph.D.
- Jamila Benkato, Protect Democracy
- Jeff Chenoweth, Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.
- Kenny Chu, Self-Help for the Elderly
- Meghan Kelly-Stallings, City of Seattle’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs
- Melissa Rodgers, Immigrant Legal Resource Center
- Miriam Núñez, Central American Resource Center of California
- Rich Stolz, OneAmerica
- Declaration of:
- ECF No. 24 Amended Complaint: City of Seattle v. DHS (11.6.2019)
- ECF No. 1 Complaint: City of Seattle v. DHS (10.29.19)
- Maria Sacchetti, “Ken Cuccinelli said goodbye to USCIS, taking on a bigger Homeland Security role. But he’s back,” Washington Post (December 13, 2019)
- Bob Egelko, “Judge in SF blocks Trump rule ending fee exemptions for poor seeking citizenship“, San Francisco Chronicle (December 12, 2019)
- Geneva Sands, “Federal Court Halts Trump Administration Changes to Fee Waiver for Citizenship,” CNN (December 10, 2019)
- Joel Rosenblatt, “Another Trump Policy Aimed at Poor Migrants Blocked by Judge,” Bloomberg (December 9, 2019)
- Hannah Albarazi, “Judge Blocks Trump’s New Limits On Immigration Fee Waivers,” Law 360 (December 9, 2019)
- Nicholas Iovino, “Judge Blocks Trump Rule on Citizenship Fee Waivers,” Courthouse News (December 9, 2019)
- Justin Vail, “Who Runs The Department Of Homeland Security? Thanks To The Trump Administration, It’s Unclear,” TPM (November 20, 2019)
- Tovin Lapan, “New Rule Limiting U.S. Citizenship Application Fee Waivers Challenged in Federal Lawsuit,” Fortune (November 8, 2019)
- Dorothy Atkins, “USCIS Sued Over New Limits On Immigration Fee Waivers,” Law 360 (October 31, 2019)
- Daniel Beekman, “Seattle joins in suing Trump administration over new rules for citizenship application fees,” Seattle Times (October 30, 2019)
- Melissa Cruz, “USCIS Changes Policy on Fee Waivers, Potentially Deterring Thousands of Citizenship Application,” Immigration Impact (October 30, 2019)
- Michelle Hackman, “Trump Administration Makes It Harder for Immigrants to Claim Fee Waivers,” Wall Street Journal (October 25, 2019)
- Farida Jhabvala Romero, “Fee Waivers for Citizenship Applications Harder to Get Under New Rule,” KQED Public Media (October 25, 2019)
- Judge bars DHS from implementing unlawful changes to fees for citizenship (December 9, 2019)
- Lawsuit challenges legality of Ken Cuccinelli’s installation as acting director of USCIS (November 7, 2019)
- Lawsuit filed challenging DHS policy designed to keep legal immigrants from becoming citizens (October 30, 2019)
- Protect Democracy announces plans to challenge rules change proposal (October 25, 2019)