TRAC Offers Explanation on Differing Asylum Approval Ratings

By David North on November 10, 2023

We recently discussed the widely differing asylum denial rates of immigration judges, from near zero in the case of some judges to near 100 percent for others. Now the source of this information, Syracuse University’s TRAC Project, has produced more data on the subject.

The new TRAC study examines the denial/approval rates of a group of nearly 100 fairly new immigration judges, a group not included in TRAC’s earlier study of a larger group of judges. Judges get included by name in these sets, once they have issued 100 or more asylum decisions.

In this study, the judge-by-judge approval ratios appear to have almost as much variation as the earlier study. In this one we find a denial rate of 94.8 percent for Judge Erica Hughes in Houston compared to a low of 1.2 percent associated with Judge Chloe Dillon in San Francisco. These are the judges at the extremes in the new study.

In the text, TRAC offers a useful bit of explanation for the wide range of approval rates, one that makes good sense and that I had not seen before:

It is ... not unexpected that asylum grant rates vary by nationality when conditions in immigrants’ home countries markedly differ or when asylum law creates implicit advantages or disadvantages for particular nationalities. Different nationalities also tend to settle in [different] parts of the country, which may indirectly tie their asylum outcomes to the asylum denial trends at the closest court.

Instead of “may indirectly tie”, I would have written “probably explains part of” the differing rates of approvals and denials court-to-court and judge-to-judge.

Let’s look at the approval rates of the judge in San Francisco (where approvals are frequent) and the one in Houston (where approvals are rare).

Judge Dillon sits in a court that deals with (largely) air-borne migrants, many of whom come from Asia; Judge Hughes, on the other hand, is dealing mostly with pedestrian migrants who have crossed the Rio Grande, and are largely from this hemisphere. Perhaps the ones from Asia are more likely to have lawyers than those from this half of the globe, or perhaps they have better lawyers. Perhaps the aliens in Houston are more likely to be, or appear to be, economic migrants than those on the West Coast.

Overlaying these variables, at all times, are the unexpressed worldviews of the individual judges in a veritable stew of factors that lead to the actual decisions in individual cases and to the ranges in approval rates.