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FBI namecheck delays and Writ of Mandamus Delays in FBI namecheck during 485 processing and legal options of filing Writ of Mandamus in court to get namecheck cleared.

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Old 01-03-2008, 02:56 AM
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Part 2 continued....


USCIS delays have become so excessive in this arena that many foreign nationals have sought relief in federal court. The Administrative Procedure Act of 1946 (APA), which governs federal agency actions and decisions, requires that an agency resolve a matter presented to it within a "reasonable" time frame. See 8 U.S.C. 555(b). Using the APA, foreign nationals have argued that waiting for two or more years for a decision on an immigration application is "unreasonable" under the statute. The cases are divided, but a majority of courts have agreed that making a foreign national wait years and years just for a decision on his or her application is unreasonable. As a result, many judges have ordered the FBI and USCIS to complete pending name check cases within 60 or 90 days where a foreign national has been waiting for two or more years. Some judges have noted that security concerns are not to be taken lightly, but this only reinforces the fact that such issues should be resolved in a matter of weeks as opposed to years.

The success or failure of litigation in this arena ultimately turns on the court's reading of a jurisdiction-stripping provision embedded in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended by the Real ID Act of 2005. The INA precludes judicial review of any "decision or action" of the USCIS that is "specified [under INA] to be in the discretion" of the USCIS. See 8 U.S.C. 1252(a)(2)(B)(ii). In defending challenges to delayed applications, the U.S. Attorney's office has argued that the adjudication of a green card application, including the pace of adjudication, is committed to the sole discretion of the USCIS, because the INA specifies that a decision to approve or deny a green card application is within the discretion of the USCIS. See 8 U.S.C. 1255(a).

None of the circuit courts have ruled on this issue, but the relationship between USCIS delay and the role of the judiciary has become a "national judicial debate" at the district court level. See Saleem v. Keisler , 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 80044 (W.D. Wis. Oct. 26, 2007). Some courts have bought the government's argument, holding that a discretionary "action" includes every interim action taken along the way leading up to an ultimate decision on an application. See Safadi v. Howard , 466 F.Supp. 2d 696, 699 (E.D. Vir. 2006). Under this theory, a stalled name check is simply action along the way to a final decision. The majority of courts have rejected this reading of the statute, holding that USCIS' discretion only applies to the ultimate decision on an application, not the pace of its adjudication. As one court stated, "it would require Orwellian twisting of the word ["action"] to conclude that it means a failure to adjudicate." Saleem v. Keisler, supra. Similarly, U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell recognized that the INA grants discretion to the USCIS to grant or deny a green card application, but "national security does not require that it also have absolute discretion to delay such an application to Dickensian lengths." Cao v. Upchurch , 496 F.Supp. 2d 569, 574 (E.D. Pa 2007). Put simply, "there is a difference between the [USCIS'] discretion over how to resolve an application and the [USCIS'] discretion over whether it resolves an application." Singh v. Still , 470 F. Supp. 2d 1064, 1068 (N.D. Cal. 2007).

The U.S. Attorney's office has also argued that the USCIS is not required to make a decision on green card or naturalization applications since the INA does not specify a time frame for the agency's decision. See Assadzadeh v. Mueller , 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 80915 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 31, 2007). The government's argument is based on Norton v. So. Utah Wilderness Alliance , 542 U.S. 55 (2004), where the U.S. Supreme Court held that a plaintiff can succeed in compelling an agency to act under the APA if and only if the action sought to be compelled is a "discrete action" that the agency is "legally required" to take. Under the government's theory, the USCIS cannot be compelled to act where its organic statute fails to require it to make a decision. But, under Norton , an agency's regulation with the force of law can create a legal duty. Arguably, the USCIS is legally required to act on applications presented to it, as its own regulations provide that it inform applicants of its decisions. See 8 C.F.R. 245.2(a)(5)(i) (green card applications); 8 C.F.R. 316.14(b)(1) (naturalization applications). Most judges in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania appear to accept this argument. For example, in Kaplan v. Chertoff , 481 F. Supp. 2d 370, 399 (E.D. Pa. 2007), Judge Eduardo Robreno held that the USCIS has a duty to adjudicate green card and naturalization applications, based, in part, on the agency's own regulations.

Once a court determines that its jurisdiction is not stripped under the INA, it usually faces little difficulty finding a cause of action under the APA. Of course, determining whether an agency has acted unreasonably is a fact-intensive inquiry, but the government's position does not look promising where the USCIS has failed to perform three distinct background checks for two or more years without any indication of special circumstances. See, e.g., Saleem v. Keisler, supra . The government has argued that flagging agency resources are to blame, but many courts find little sympathy for such posturing. In addressing the issue of agency resources, one court stated that the USCIS should take its complaints up with Congress. See Liang v. Attorney General , 07-cv-2349-CW (N.D. Cal. Oct. 30, 2007). "The executive branch must decide for itself how best to meet its statutory duties; this Court can only decide whether or not those duties have been met." Id . Even factoring in flagging appropriations, the court held that a two-and-a-half-year delay is unreasonable as a matter of law. Id .

With more than 340,000 cases in the name check backlog, it is not clear when some foreign nationals will ever have their cases resolved at the agency level. At least with the advantageous decisions handed down from the federal district courts, foreign nationals have the hope of going into court to request an expeditious resolution to their name checks. In the majority of situations, it appears that litigation is the only option, but at least an option exists.

Please email the author at gforney@wolfblock.com with questions about this article.
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