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The challenge to a denied naturalization application (N-400) is decided on a very different standard from other cases where immigration denials are contested. While most non-consular immigration denial lawsuits need to attack the decision making process and legal footing that lead to the denial and convince a federal judge that the denial was arbitrary and capricious, a lawsuit that challenges a naturalization denial is subject to a de novo review. “De novo” is Latin for anew, or from the beginning. In other words, the federal judge assigned to the case reviews the facts and laws applicable to the case from scratch and does not have to give any deference to what USCIS concluded. This powerful form of judicial review is an acknowledgment of how important and sacred citizenship rights are.
While applicants have the right to contest a naturalization denial in federal court, their time to file a lawsuit is short according to the rules promulgated by the government. As such, they should act quickly. According to 8 CFR 336:
Filing a petition. Under these procedures, an applicant must file a petition for review in the United States District Court having jurisdiction over his or her place of residence, in accordance with Chapter 7 of Title 5, United States Code, within a period of not more than 120 days after the USCIS final determination. The petition for review must be brought against USCIS, and service of the petition for review must be made upon DHS and upon the USCIS office where the hearing was held pursuant to 8 CFR 336.2.
While it is best to file your lawsuit within the 120 days allowed by the rule, at least one court has ruled that the limitation is not enforceable. In Nagahi v. INS, the Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit struck down the 120 day filing rule holding that an administrative agency (in this case, USCIS) cannot create a limitations period that affects the ability of a district court to review the agency’s action. Congress must do that.
As a result, it is best to file your naturalization denial lawsuit within 120 days of the denial. While not ideal, if you missed your 120 day window to file, there is a still a possibility to have your case heard and the naturalization denial overturned by a federal court.