United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division
Enabnit Portland Immigration Law LLC Attorney for Petitioner
J. Williams UNITED STATES ATTORNEY District of Oregon Alison
Milne ASSISTANT UNITED STATES ATTORNEY United States
Attorney's Office Attorneys for Respondent
OPINION & ORDER
A. HERNANDEZ UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Tesfaye Aleme seeks an order from the Court instructing the
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services
(“USCIS”) to amend the date of birth appearing on
his naturalization certificate. I deny the petition.
is a naturalized United States citizen and a native of
Ethiopia. In 1984, he left Ethiopia to avoid persecution and
imprisonment and was granted asylum in Kenya. He applied for
refugee status in the United States in 1988. CAR
43-61. With his refugee application, Petitioner
completed a “G-325C” Form issued by Immigration
and Naturalization Services
(“INS”). Id. at 55. There, he listed his
birth date as September 12, 1958. Id. Petitioner was
admitted to the United States as a refugee in August 1988.
Id. at 13. Thereafter, Petitioner applied for
naturalization. INS approved Petitioner's application and
issued his naturalization certificate on January 25, 1996.
Id. at 140. Petitioner's naturalization
certificate bears his signature and lists April 12, 1958, as
his birth date. Id.
February 2018, Petitioner submitted a USCIS Form N-565,
entitled “Application for Replacement
Naturalization/Citizenship Document.” Id. at
73-82. There, he listed his birth date as April 12, 1950,
rather than April 12, 1958. Id. at 73, 75.
Petitioner explained that the change was due to the
eight-year difference between the Ethiopian and Gregorian
calendars. Id. at 75.
response to Petitioner's application, USCIS informed
Petitioner that he needed to submit additional evidence.
USCIS told him that because he was naturalized by a district
court before Congress amended the Immigration and Nationality
Act (1986) by passing the Immigration Act of 1990
(“IMMACT 90”)-which transferred naturalization
authority from the district courts to the Attorney
General-USCIS could change the birth date on his
naturalization certificate only if a district court ordered
the amendment. Id. at 88. Following USCIS's
instructions, Petitioner asked this Court to order USCIS to
amend his naturalization certificate. Mot. for Order, ECF 1.
courts of limited jurisdiction, federal courts “possess
only that power authorized by Constitution and Statute . . .
which is not to be expanded by judicial decree.”
Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S.
375, 377 (1994) (citations omitted). Therefore, a court
cannot consider the merits of a case unless it first
determines that it has subject matter jurisdiction over the
matter. Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 514
(2006) (The court has an “independent obligation to
determine whether subject matter jurisdiction exists.”)
(citing Ruhrgas AG v. Marathon Oil Co., 526 U.S.
574, 583 (1999)); Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. v.
Risjord, 449 U.S. 368, 379 (1981).
divested the courts of jurisdiction over the naturalization
process-including amendments to naturalization
certificates-with the IMMACT 90. Immigration Act of 1990,
Pub. L. No. 101-649, § 401(a), 104 Stat. 5046 (1990)
(codified at 8 U.S.C. § 1421(a)). Title 8, Section 338.5
of the Code of Federal Regulations governs correction of
naturalization certificates. Section 338.5 provides that
USCIS may correct a Certificate of Naturalization
“which does not conform to the facts shown on the
application for naturalization” or exhibits some
clerical error. 8 C.F.R. § 338.5(a). Section 338.5 does
not create subject matter jurisdiction. Yu-Ling Teng v.
Dist. Dir., U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Servs.,
820 F.3d 1106, 1111 (9th Cir. 2016).
considering the merits, the Court must first determine
whether it has the authority to amend-or to require USCIS to
amend-Petitioner's Certificate of Naturalization. Before
1991, federal courts had “exclusive jurisdiction to
naturalize persons as citizens” of the United States.
Gorbach v. Reno, 219 F.3d 1087, 1089 (9th Cir. 2000)
(en banc). Courts also had the authority “to correct,
reopen, alter, modify, or vacate [a] judgment or
decree” naturalizing a person. 8 U.S.C. § 1451(i)
(1988) amended by 8 U.S.C. § 1451(h) (1990).
The IMMACT 90- which became effective on October 1,
1991-vested the executive branch with exclusive
naturalization authority. Gorbach, 219 F.3d at 1089
(“the power to naturalize plainly was shifted by the
1990 amendment from the courts to INS”). By extension,
the IMMACT 90 transferred the power to reopen, alter, and
modify naturalization decrees from the courts to the Attorney
General. Compare 8 U.S.C. § 1451(i) (1988)
with 8 U.S.C. § 1451(h) (1990); Yu-Ling
Teng v. Dist. Dir., U.S. Citizenship & Immigration
Servs., 820 F.3d 1106, 1110 (9th Cir. 2016)
(“[n]othing in the Immigration Act of 1990 grants
[courts] jurisdiction to amend an agency- issued certificate
of naturalization or to order USCIS to do so").
Congress's transfer of authority to naturalize aliens
frorn the courts to the Attorney General rescinded the
courts' jurisdiction to modify naturalization
certificates. Id. (citing McKenzie v. U.S.
Citizenship & Immigration Servs., 761 F.3d 1149,
1156 (10th Cir. 2019)). However, courts retained the
jurisdiction to amend naturalization certificates that were
issued before the IMMACT 90 because modification of those
certificates is governed by the earlier Immigration and
Naturalization Act, which vested jurisdiction with the
courts. Collins v. U.S. Citizenship & Immigration
Servs., 820 F.3d 1096, 1099-1100 (9th Cir. 2016).
naturalized administratively in 1996, CAR 86, after IMMACT 90
vested jurisdiction to amend naturalization certificates with
the Attorney General. As a result, this Court lacks