Asylum: Where you run to matters more than where you’re running from

Categories: Immigration Lawyer Blog San Diego

In a report released recently, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse analyses asylum denial rates for Immigration Judges across the country from 2006 – 2011. The reality of the statistics shows the disparity in grants of asylum depending upon whether you have representation, the city your case is heard in, and the judge hearing your case. An erroneous denial of asylum means that an individual will likely be returned to a country where they face persecution, torture, and even death, these stakes are too high to allow them to be left up to chance, and these disparities are disturbing at best and a violation of constitutional and international law at worst.

On average, 53.2 percent of asylum cases heard across the country are denied. In stark contrast however, if an individual is not represented by an attorney, the denial rate skyrockets to 88%. Unfortunately for those individuals literally running for their lives, there is no right to counsel at the governments expense meaning that those applying for asylum must hire a private attorney or hope that they are lucky enough to find a pro bono attorney who will handle their case for free.

In San Diego, judges deny asylum 37.1 percent of the time, as compared to the national average of 53.2. Here’s a breakdown of the current denial rates of judges active in San Diego:

DePaolo – 32.2%

Fernandez – 33.4%

Ipema – 59.7%

Renner – 34.7% Bagley – 45.4%

Barrett – 32.2%

Bartolomei – 44.4%

The lower case denial rate may stem from the types of cases these judges see, or from a different culture in San Diego that’s more open to asylum claims. Advocates for victims of human rights abuses hope that it is the former rather than the latter, but further analysis shows that even within the same city denial rates can fluctuate greatly. Although a 27.5 difference in rates between judges in the same city, who often have similar types caseloads may seem high, other immigration courts have an even higher disparity. In Miami, where the denial rate is 78.3 as a whole, individual judges vary in their grants between 91.2% and 33.7%. Whether an individual is returned to a country where they face persecution should never depend upon which judge the court’s calendar management system assigns to the case.

This report highlights serious flaws in the Executive Office For Immigration Review’s (EOIR) ability to handle asylum cases consistently and independent of the bias any individual judge may have. Inconsistency and bias breeds due process violations. As the EOIR strives to revamp the overloaded immigration system, they should also increase judge training to address this critical issue and guarantee to these individuals their rights under the constitution and international law.