USA: Data Points to Wide Gap in Asylum Approval Rates at Nation’s Immigration Courts

Similar to what some of the research by Sean Rehaag has shown in Canada with the IRB:

Years of data from immigration courts around the United States and compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University show that whether or not a person seeking asylum is granted that request depends more on where they live and appear before an immigration court judge than it does on the facts of the case.

The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit closely tracked the asylum results at every U.S. immigration court over the past three years and found a wide variation in the number of asylum approvals depending upon the court; in some instances the rate varies as much as 75 percentage points.

From 2016 through the first part of 2018, immigration courts in Los Angeles and San Francisco consistently ranked in the nation’s top 15 courts when it comes to the number of asylum requests granted. Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Antonio, New York and Boston were also in the top 15 each year. Court data show each of those courts grants asylum requests more than 50 percent of the time.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, U.S. immigration courts that are vastly less likely to approve asylum petitions include Atlanta, Lumpkin, Georgia, Charlotte, Dallas and Houston. In some of those courts, asylum is granted around 20 percent of the time. In other jurisdictions, like the court in Lumpkin, judges grant asylum only 10 percent of the time.

This disparity has led many observers—from academic researchers, to judges, to the very lawyers appearing before the immigration court judges—to worry that political beliefs could be getting in the way of justice in America’s immigration courts.

“There’s something going on that is very, very troubling,” said Karen Musalo, director at the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at the UC Hastings School of Law in San Francisco. Musalo spent years studying these inconsistencies in asylum outcomes.

“I think there are a number of factors that contribute to these disparities. They have to do with both the selection process for the individual judges and what their backgrounds are and whether or not they’re qualified (to serve as judges),” Musalo said.

“It has to do with a politicization of the selection process. It has to do with a lack of independence of these immigration judges,” she added.

U.S. Immigration Court judges are not part of the independent judiciary but, rather, are appointed and work for the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), which is an arm of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Congress’s own Government Accountability Office twice issued reports—in 2008 and 2016—that point out a “signification variation” in asylum cases. In its reports, the GAO called on Congress to fix the problem.

But so far, nothing has happened.

…Paul Wickham Schmidt, a retired U.S. immigration judge, says the nation’s immigration court disparity is so wide that it can be explained only by personal bias creeping into judges’ decisions.

“If I were an immigrant, I’d rather be in California than in Atlanta, Georgia, any day,” he said. “Clearly, the attitudes of the judges and how they feel about asylum law has quite a bit to do with it,” Schmidt added.

The EOIR, the agency in charge of the immigration courts, declined NBC Bay Area’s request for an interview on the subject. Kathryn Mattingly, an EOIR spokesperson, emailed a statement:

“Regarding your reference to TRAC data, please note that we do not comment on third-party analysis of EOIR data because the method another party may use to analyze the raw data may be different from the analytical techniques EOIR uses. When looking at this issue, it is important to note that each asylum case is unique, with its own set of facts, evidentiary factors, and circumstances. Asylum cases typically include complex legal and factual issues and EOIR immigration judges and Board of Immigration Appeals members review each one on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration every factor allowable by law. It is also important to note that immigration courts in detained facilities typically have lower asylum grant rates because detained aliens with criminal convictions are not eligible for many forms of relief from removal. That all said, EOIR takes seriously any claims of unjustified and significant anomalies in immigration judge decision-making and takes steps to evaluate disparities in immigration adjudications. In addition, EOIR monitors immigration judge performance through an official performance work plan and evaluation process, as well as daily supervision of the courts by assistant chief immigration judges.”

Source: Data Points to Wide Gap in Asylum Approval Rates at Nation’s Immigration Courts

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: