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Office of Immigration Litigation, District Court Section

The Office of Immigration Litigation, District Court Section (OIL-DCS) is a highly active litigation section in the Department of Justice’s Civil Division. OIL-DCS handles immigration matters at the district court level in any of the 94 federal district courts nationwide and provides centralized expertise on district court-related immigration matters. Created in 1983, the Office of Immigration Litigation defends and preserves the Executive Branch’s authority to administer U.S. immigration and nationality matters. The District Court Section was officially created on February 26, 2008.

In addition to district court cases, OIL-DCS handles matters in the courts of appeals that arise from its district court cases. The District Court Section is one of the few sections within the Department of Justice in which an attorney might handle a case at both the trial and appellate levels. OIL’s Appellate Section continues to handle petitions for review in the courts of appeals and from the Board of Immigration Appeals.

OIL-DCS currently employs over 70 attorneys, all of whom handle a variety of matters within the section. Some DCS attorneys possess specialized expertise in specific subject areas, such as detention, employment-based immigration, denaturalization, or terrorism-related immigration issues.
OIL-District Court Section attorneys’ work can take them to any district court or court of appeals in the nation, which affords them the opportunity to gain valuable experience in trial court and appellate practice. In addition to its geographic variety, the section’s work spans complex areas of federal law. OIL-DCS work frequently addresses questions of federal jurisdiction, statutory interpretation, administrative law, and constitutional law – all in the context of federal immigration law, regulations, and policy.   

Most immigration law is codified in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. § 1101 et seq.  The INA controls a broad range of matters, including the admission of aliens, visas, asylum, and naturalization.  It also sets forth the administrative review process. Executive authority for implementing the INA is vested in several areas of the Federal Government, including the Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, Department of Justice, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Immigration-related litigation authority is divided between the Civil Division and the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice.  The Civil Division generally handles or supervises “all civil litigation arising under the passport, visa and immigration and nationality laws . . . .” 28 C.F.R. § 0.45(k).  This is generally the mandate of the Office of Immigration Litigation.  However, forfeitures, return of property actions, Nazi war criminals, and certain types of national security matters are assigned to the Criminal Division under 28 C.F.R. § 0.55.  The National Security Division, which was created in 2006, also plays a role in immigration matters. 

District Court Section attorneys represent and advise government agencies on a wide range of matters throughout the immigration system. Much of its work involves Immigration and Customs Enforcement, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, and Customs and Border Protection, each of which is a component of the Department of Homeland Security.  OIL-DCS also litigates on behalf of the Department of State, the Department of Labor, and the Office of Refugee Resettlement within the Department of Health and Human Services, and, on occasion, other federal entities, such as the Department of Defense. In addition to its client agencies, the District Court Section also works closely with other Department of Justice components, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation. 

Before the District Court Section’s formation, the Office of Immigration Litigation delegated most district court immigration litigation to U.S. Attorney’s offices and provided assistance and expertise when necessary. Since its official formation in 2008, the District Court Section has taken a much more visible role, working closely with the United States Attorney’s offices to optimize handling of civil immigration matters. OIL-DCS also works with Assistant United States Attorneys on immigration issues relating to criminal matters. When the District Court Section’s appellate cases lead to further proceedings in the United States Supreme Court, the Federal Government is represented by the Office of the Solicitor General with input and assistance from OIL-DCS.  

Most of the District Court Section’s litigation responsibilities are defensive in nature. Immigration litigation defense consists of a wide range of individual and class action cases, including petitions for writs of habeas corpus, Administrative Procedure Act challenges to denials of immigration benefits, actions for declaratory or injunctive relief, mandamus actions, and constitutional claims. OIL-DCS also affirmatively files and prosecutes denaturalization cases.

Updated March 21, 2023