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USCIS Not required to Travel to Prison to Administer Citizenship and Immigration Services

On December 8, 2020 the United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of Miguel Angel Mendoza-Tarango mandamus claim under 28 U.S.C. 1915A(b)(l) seeking an order to compel United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) officials to travel to federal prison in order to administer the oath of citizenship to him for failure to state a claim for relief and denial of his subsequent motion for reconsideration.

Mendoza-Tarangoisat a federal prisoner who will finish serving his sentence in February 2022. In May 2013, Mendoza-Tarango filed an N-600, an application for a certificate of citizenship. Three months later, USCIS informed Mendoza-Tarango tha this N-600 application had been approved. The letter stated: "Upon your release from incarceration, you will need to make arrangements to appear personally at a USCIS office to take the Oath of Allegiance that is required before the Certificate may be issued."

Six years passed. In February 2019, Mendoza-Tarango sent letters to Simona Flores and Diane Witte, USCIS Field Office Directors of the Dallas and El Paso offices, respectively, requesting that USCIS officials travel to the federal prison where he is incarcerated to administer the oath to him.

Because Mendoza-Tarango did not receive a response from either office, he filed a petition for a writ of mandamus with the district court a month later.

Mendoza-Tarango alleged that USCIS unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed the administration of his oath under § 706(1) of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). In particular, he asserts that, once USCIS approved his N-600 application for a certificate of citizenship, the agency had a "nondiscretionary duty to administer the required Oath of Allegiance."

He further alleged that USCIS officials "understand their duty, have procedures in place to fulfill their duty but have intentionally refused to act for almost (6) years. "He claimed that USCIS officials unreasonably delayed the administration of his oath" by misrepresenting their ability to travel to the federal [prison] and fulfill their duty, or take temporary custody of [Mendoza-Tarango] in order to conduct the Oath of Allegiance be it in the federal court or in their field office."

The district court found that Mendoza-Tarango did not show that USCIS officials failed to take discrete action that they were required to take. The district court further denied the motion for reconsideration, and Mendoza­ Tarango timely appealed.

On appeal the Fifth Circuit ultimately upheld the dismissal of the mandamus and concluded, "the manner in which USCIS administers the oath, including where within the United States that administration occurs, is left to the agency's discretion. Because Mendoza-Tarango cannot show a clear right to relief, he is not entitled to mandamus relief."

In addition, the court determined, "dismissal of Mendoza-Tarango's complaint counts as one 'strike' under 28 u.s.c. § 1915(g)."

Source: Mendoza-Tarango v. Flores, 982 F.3d 395 (5th Cir. 2020).

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Related legal case

Mendoza-Tarango v. Flores