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Lawsuits & Litigation

What is a Mandamus Lawsuit?

— January 14, 2022

Filing a mandamus lawsuit is complicated and confusing. But if your case has been stuck for many months or years, your best bet is to hire an experienced immigration lawyer. 

When a person files an application for a green card or other immigration benefit and it seems to be moving along smoothly but then inexplicably hits a wall of delays, it can be very frustrating. 

Even more frustrating is when these mysterious delays begin to drag on for months, and then years, and no amount of emails, going to InfoPass appointments, or discussing the case with people through the appropriate administrative channels seems to move the case forward. My team has seen this happen most frequently with applications for naturalization or immigrant visa petitions for relatives living abroad. When this type of delay happens, it may be time to think about filing a mandamus lawsuit.

In immigration law, a mandamus lawsuit is used to hold the government accountable.  Filing a mandamus action creates a lawsuit against an officer or employee of the United States government with the purpose of compelling that person to take action in an administrative matter that is not arbitrary and in which they have a legal duty to act. 

The various U.S. immigration departments are required by their own statutes and regulations to make a decision on all applications submitted – they have to either grant the request or deny it. The government cannot simply leave the applicant in processing limbo forever. So by filing a mandamus lawsuit, either U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or the U.S. State Department is being reminded of this responsibility and required to move forward with granting or denying the application request. Filing this type of lawsuit doesn’t automatically guarantee that the stuck application will be granted, but it does mean that the frustrating and seemingly endless waiting and uncertainty will finally come to an end. This allows applicants to move forward and determine their next steps once a decision has been made.

Success Story: Mandamus Lawsuit Win

Has your immigration case stalled? Maybe it’s been held up in years of “administrative processing” or “background checks”? If that’s your situation, you may want to learn more about a recent victory our team had with a writ of mandamus to see if it might help you get un-stuck.

Situation: Stuck in “Administrative Processing” Limbo

My office recently had some clients who ran into this problem. The U.S. citizen wife, Sarai*, had filed an immigrant visa petition on behalf of her husband, Abdul*, a citizen of Iran, in 2011. The I-130 petition was approved within normal processing times, the National Visa Center received all the appropriate forms and supporting documents, and the application had been forwarded to the consulate in Qatar, where Abdul had moved to live and work while awaiting approval. In 2013, Abdul was informed that he had been scheduled for an immigrant visa interview. He obtained all of the necessary police clearances and completed his medical exam, then he went to his visa interview in 2013, and then…nothing. 

He waited, he checked the status of his application through the embassy’s website on a daily basis, and still, no decision. The delays dragged on and on and the only explanation they got was that the case was delayed due to “administrative processing.”

Sarai and Abdul, both incredibly accomplished professionals, were recently married and had a young child. However, because of the delays with Abdul’s visa, they were forced to spend more and more time apart. Sarai struggled to take care of their baby boy alone in the United States while trying to work part-time and complete her degree in clinical psychology. Meanwhile, Abdul struggled to continue with his professional life while so far away from his family, renewing his work visa in Qatar and committing to more time abroad, all the while never knowing when he could be required to drop everything in order to be able to move to the United States to join his wife and child.

By the time they came to my office they had reached the end of their rope – the uncertainty was taking a large toll on their lives and their emotional well-being. They had tried everything they could think of to inquire about the status of the case and to see if they could move it forward but it remained stubbornly stuck. We talked about their options and the possibility of filing a mandamus lawsuit. I explained that this would very likely get the case unstuck, which would get them a resolution to the application process so that they could move on with their lives and make other important decisions for their family.

Mandamus Lawsuit: Start to Finish

They ultimately decided to file the lawsuit. We helped them do this, and within months of filing it, we began to see some progress. We were informed that the U.S. Embassy in Qatar was going to review the case again and make a decision. Shortly thereafter, Abdul got a call from a representative of the U.S. Embassy there in Qatar. He was told that he would receive information through the embassy’s case status website and he would be required to “refresh” various documents, such as his medical exam, his police clearance certificates, and he would need to provide the embassy with a valid unexpired passport. All of these documents were updated and delivered to the embassy. And, about a month later, Abdul received a positive decision in his case and obtained his immigrant visa! Success!

Abdul and Sarai were thrilled. Sarai had moved to Qatar for a time to be with Abdul, and now the two of them and their son had the ability to travel back to the United States together as a family. After 5 years of their marriage and life being in a holding pattern, they were finally able to begin building their life together here in the United States. We are incredibly happy for them and were very glad to be able to play a part in helping to reunite their family.

What Does a Writ of Mandamus Do?

A writ of mandamus can help you resolve unreasonable delays in the immigration process that have caused you to put your whole life on hold. When you submit an immigration application, you have a right to a decision in that case. Under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), the government has a legal obligation to make a final decision on every immigration application in a timely and reasonable manner. If your case has been delayed without good cause, an experienced immigration attorney can help you file a writ of mandamus lawsuit in federal court that will force the government to comply with this mandatory legal duty, even during times of uncertainty in our country, or even globally, such as dealing with coronavirus. 

What Does a Writ of Mandamus Not Do?

A writ of mandamus is an extremely effective legal tool used to compel various federal agencies to make a decision in your immigration case. Filing this type of lawsuit does not guarantee that the government will approve your application, but it does guarantee that your case will no longer languish in an indefinite limbo state. The government will be forced to look at your file, evaluate the evidence you have presented, and take action on your application. 

When nothing else seems to work and your efforts and requests for information on the status of your pending application fail to get a response, a mandamus lawsuit is often the best way to get the answers you need to resolve your case and move on with your life, there are however times when a writ of mandamus is not the right answer for your immigration situation. When this is the case, reaching out to a qualified immigration lawyer near you is the best course of action.

Why is My Green Card Taking So Long?

There are many reasons why the U.S. government might delay your immigration application. Do any of the following situations sound familiar?

  • Your case has been stalled due to FBI background checks;
  • You applied for naturalization or for a green card and have experienced long delays without any decision; or
  • Your case has been pending due to “administrative delays” for many months or even years.

If this sounds like what’s been happening to you, contact an immigration attorney.  Find out if a mandamus lawsuit might be the solution to these never-ending delays! An experienced immigration attorney can help you put an end to this uncertainty and help you resolve your immigration case as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Green Card Processing Time

Graphic of application with “Approved” stamped on it and a passport near it; image by Mohamed Hassan, via
Graphic of application with “Approved” stamped on it and a passport near it; image by Mohamed Hassan, via

If you have been experiencing delays related to your immigration application, you should know that you’re not alone. According to the LA Times, federal immigration court backlogs are at an all-time high, and the sheer number of cases awaiting a decision in California is among the highest in the nation.

In addition to the high volume of cases currently being handled, there are several common reasons why your immigration application may be delayed:

  • Administrative Delays in Processing: Green card applications (I-485, Application for Adjustment of Status), citizenship applications (N-400, Application for Naturalization), and other immigration applications pass through numerous channels on their way to being approved, slowing down the time that administrative processing takes. It’s possible for your application to get stuck at many different points in the bureaucratic process before a decision is made. When immigration agencies are questioned regarding these delays, the response is likely to be that your application is “pending”, “under review”, or “under investigation.”  
  • Delays In Background Checks and Security Clearances: USCIS conducts background checks and security clearances on all applicants for immigration services. These checks involve reviews by multiple federal agencies and lengthy delays are possible even if you have a clean background and no criminal record. Anecdotal evidence suggests post-9/11 security policies have increased the scrutiny of these checks, increasing the likelihood of delays based on profiling of applicants’ names and countries of origin, in particular, those coming from Morocco, Algeria, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, and the Middle East.

Issues regarding applications for citizenship, green cards, or other immigration-related benefits have a significant impact on your present circumstances as well as your future success. It is important to know that you do have certain rights when it comes to getting a timely decision on your application and that these rights are protected by U.S. laws. 

Filing a mandamus lawsuit is complicated and confusing. But if your case has been stuck for many months or years, your best bet is to hire an experienced immigration lawyer. 

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