TRAC Study Mirrors Pew's – Aliens Less Interested in the U.S. Than Before

By David North on September 2, 2010

It was probably a coincidence, but two quite different studies of alien populations were issued within 24 hours of each other, each showing that migrants appear to be less interested in the U.S. than formerly.

The more numerically significant of the two, the report of the Pew Hispanic Center, as noted in a posting by Mark Krikorian, estimated that the number of illegal aliens in the country had dropped to 11.1 million from 12.0 million two years earlier. That's a decrease, over two years, of 7.5 percent.

Krikorian said that the lagging economy, and the more vigorous levels of enforcement, until recently, led to the decline.

The more numerically precise of the two, dealing with the much smaller population of asylum applicants, also showed a decline over time. Applications pushed to the point of decision fell about 17 percent between 2008 and the projected totals for 2010. The total number of these decisions made by immigration judges fell from 24,028 in 2008 to a projected 19,937 for this about-to-be-finished fiscal year. (The number of decisions relates roughly to the number of applications.)

The asylum study, based on records pried out of the Justice Department through a FOIA filing, was made by TRAC (Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse), a program run by Syracuse University. This was TRAC's fifth annual report along these lines, and is available here.

The TRAC report did not discuss why the number of application-based decisions had dropped so sharply, but did note that the number of decisions had fallen from 35,782 in 2003 to the current 19,937. (My sense is that the slowing economy must have had something to do with this trend, though that may not be a politically correct approach to an analysis of the size of a refugee-like population.)

The TRAC people seem much more interested in legal than sociological or economic trends. What they have done is to produce an enormous amount of highly detailed information about what the Justice Department's Immigration Judges do with the cases before them.

In fact, for judges making more than 100 asylum decisions a year, TRAC works out the exact percentage of denials and grants for each judge and publishes that information. The judges' rates of grants and denials vary sharply; one judge denied asylum only 6 percent of the time, and another had a 70 percent denial rate. Even in large offices, where the cases are distributed randomly to the judges, thus all have pretty much the same mix, there are strong variations in denial rates, a subject of much concern to the TRAC authors.

The TRAC report stressed that the denial rate for the judges collectively had dropped from 52.5 percent to 50.1 percent between 2009 and 2010. It also noted that the percentage of cases where a lawyer was employed had risen to about 91 percent in 2010; this must have helped lower the denial rates, as grants were given to only 11 percent of the pro se cases, as opposed to 54 percent of the cases where a lawyer was present.

The TRAC reports, of actions of the Executive Office of Immigration Review, are a blast of fresh air, highly detailed fresh air if I may say so, in contrast to the reporting of the oh-so-secret appeals arm of USCIS. That entity, the Office of Administrative Appeals, has a set of duties that are quite comparable to those of EOIR. It handles some appeals from DHS staff decisions, and EOIR handles others.

As I noted in an earlier blog, OAA publishes no statistical reports at all, to the best of my knowledge, but does release – usually six months or so later – the texts of its individual decisions.

In contrast to the EOIR/TRAC data, the OAA decisions do not mention the name of the institution or employer that wanted the decision, and does not name the lawyer or the judge who handled the case. The alien's name is left off, too.

Here is a sample OAA decision. In this case, the attempt to keep the name of the church secret – it involved a religious worker – has been compromised by a careless clerk, who eliminated the name of the church in the heading, but failed to do so when the church was mentioned in the text.

A case of tyrannical silence mitigated by sloppiness.