United States District Court, D. Alaska
Francisco E. Munar, Jr., Plaintiff,
Jeh C. Johnson, et al., Defendants.
ORDER AND OPINION [RE: MOTION AT DOCKET 10]
JOHN W. SEDWICK SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
I. MOTION PRESENTED
At docket 10 defendants Jeh C. Johnson, et al., (“Defendants”) move pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1447(b) for an order remanding to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“the USCIS”) the naturalization petition and complaint of plaintiff Francisco E. Munar, Jr. (“Munar”). At docket 11 Defendants submit the declaration of Immigration Services Officer Lynn Edwards (“Edwards”) in support of their motion. Munar opposes at docket 16; Defendants reply at docket 17. Oral argument was not requested and would not assist the court.
Munar filed an application for naturalization on November 3, 2014. The USCIS investigated his application pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1446(a) and examined him pursuant to § 1446(b) on January 8 and May 21, 2015. According to the USCIS, all of Munar’s tests were complete as of May 21, 2015,  but it did not decide his application because his “file and testimony raised concerns of fraud.”
Approximately one year after filing his naturalization application, Munar filed a petition for naturalization and a complaint with this court in which he seeks the following relief: (1) de novo adjudication of his naturalization application under § 1447(b);(2) declaratory and injunctive relief under the Administrative Procedure Act; and (3) a writ of mandamus. Defendants now move to remand to the USCIS, stating that it is “in a position to adjudicate [Munar’s] naturalization application within seven days of remand.”
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
The parties agree that USCIS did not determine Munar’s naturalization application within 120 days of his examination. 8 U.S.C. § 1147(b) provides that
[i]f there is a failure to make a determination under section 1446 of this title before the end of the 120-day period after the date on which the examination is conducted under such section, the applicant may apply to the United States district court for the district in which the applicant resides for a hearing on the matter. Such court has jurisdiction over the matter and may either determine the matter or remand the matter, with appropriate instructions, to [the USCIS] to determine the matter.
Once the applicant presents the district court with a §1147(b) request, the district court exercises its discretion in determining whether to decide the naturalization petition or remand it to the USCIS.
For two hundred years, from 1790 to 1990, naturalization applications were decided by courts. This changed with the Immigration Act of 1990, which transferred that authority from the district courts to the Attorney General. The Attorney General has since delegated that authority to the USCIS.
The Immigration Act of 1990 did not remove the courts from the naturalization process entirely, however. The Act reserves for district courts the “final word concerning denial of a naturalization application” under two circumstances: denial and delay. “If a naturalization application is denied, 8 U.S.C. § 1421(c) permits the applicant to seek a de novo review of this denial in district court.” Likewise, if the USCIS delays its determination of an application for more than 120 days, § 1447(b) allows the applicant to obtain a de novo proceeding before the district court. Under this statutory scheme, where the district court retains ultimate authority over naturalization applications, § 1447(b) “is best viewed as a mechanism by which naturalization applicants who are impatient with [agency] delay may skip the agency’s analysis of their application and proceed directly to the step in which the district court conducts a de novo review of the application.”
Although § 1447(b) bestows on the district court this power to review a naturalization application, the court also has the option to remand the application to the USCIS “with appropriate instructions.” Neither Congress nor the Ninth Circuit has provided the district courts with clear guidance on how to ...